On May 24, midshipmen from all over the country will graduate.
Out of the 64 midshipmen in the Class of 2019 from Maryland set to graduate, 22 are from Anne Arundel County.
With graduation growing closer, some local midshipmen reflected on why they decided to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, what they learned and some advice for the entering class.
Many traveled around the world, some became leaders in their extracurricular activities and they all look forward to serving their country.
Surface Warfare Officers
Daniel Kwon, Severna Park
Daniel Kwon, recruited through soccer, may not have family in the military but he saw the school as an opportunity to travel and experience beyond what a civilian college could offer.
“The opportunities in the military are too good to pass (up),” Kwon said.
It is always really cool to talk to sailors who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and have contributed to history, he said. Kwon also traveled to places like Hawaii and Italy.
“I was able to travel the world and experience and learn things.”
Initially, Kwon viewed the Naval Academy as a free education but along the way he gained skills as a leader. He was a plebe summer detailer.
“I realized it wasn’t about me but developing my peers and the people I serve,” Kwon said. “I want to make the people around me better.”
Kwon will work at the training department at the Naval Academy until September.
Kieran O’Sullivan, Annapolis
Growing up in Annapolis, and with her father as a chemistry professor at the Naval Academy, Kieran O’Sullivan, was familiar with the school and the military.
“We started sponsoring midshipmen while I was in middle school,” O’Sullivan said. “They all just became mentors to me and really encouraged me to apply when I was in high school.”
While at the academy, O’Sullivan also got to continue her volunteer work with special needs children.
“I knew I really liked that aspect of giving back. This was another way to do it for a longer time and with a good career opportunity that would lead to more when I get out of the Navy,” she said.
Along with club volleyball, volunteer work with Best Buddies and managing the men’s volleyball team, O’Sullivan also talked about her summer training experiences.
“How many people can say they have been in a submarine and then flown in a helicopter in the same summer?” O’Sullivan said.
Luke King, Severna Park
Luke King saw his exposure to the Naval Academy, first through the preparatory school, as time to mature.
“I don’t think I would’ve been ready if I had gone right after high school,” King said. “It was an opportunity to mature a little bit -- athletically, mentally and physically.”
King saw others in his community, who attended the academy as figureheads and after getting recruited to play lacrosse, he saw the opportunity as a “no-brainer.”
He said he was pushed outside his comfort zone at the academy.“For the most part I think that is where most growth comes from,” King said.
King said he feels prepared now to take the next step.
When it came to sports, King talked about his freshman year beating Army in double overtime.
“Every time we beat Army, it is pretty cool,” he said with a smile.
In September, King will head to San Diego as a surface warfare officer.
Megan Viohl, Severna Park
For Megan Viohl, she initially did not know what she wanted to do while she was attending Brown University.
“As I went through one year of college and then two years, I realized I wanted to be part of something greater than myself and that was by serving,” Viohl said.
Viohl reapplied to the Naval Academy, an obvious choice after she deciding to make a change to “give back to the community and to give back to the country,” Viohl said.
Along with a sense of purpose, Viohl recalled her favorite memory, hanging around the hallway, probably could not be found elsewhere.
“You can always run into someone and start a conversation and learn so much about them,” Viohl said. “People in this school, unlike some colleges, come from every inch of the U.S., every corner.”
“Having so many people from so many different cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic backgrounds, it really expanded my horizons more than I think it could have in any other institution,” she explained.
Viohl spent her first two years on the Navy women’s swim team and also joined the Midshipmen Action Group, working on projects like the Special Olympics swim team.
“I think it is really awesome that we are at a place where you can really go and reach into a community and really just get that experience of servant leadership.”
Viohl will stay in Annapolis as a temporary assigned duty officer at the academy and then in November will head to Norfolk, Virginia, for basic division officer school.
David Escalera, Harwood
Though he lived in an area near the academy, David Escalera’s had never visited the yard or toured the academy before.
“My first experience with the military was coming here on I-Day and seeing the camaraderie and the history surrounding this place,” he said.
“The sense of duty and responsibility, to be part of a team greater than yourself, really spoke to me so I decided to stay and I loved it,” he explained.
For his parents, both immigrants from Mexico and Honduras, they did not expect Escalera to pursue military education.
“To have the opportunity to protect that American dream that they came to the United States and found, I wanted to do it for them and for myself,” said Escalera.
Escalera recalled some of his favorite memories, specifically the day he and his company all signed to be part of the Navy.
“Being with my company on that day and standing outside before we went inside the Memorial Hall to sign, we were just like, ‘Hey guys, we are in this together.’”
Escalera also found another group of friends in the hockey team after his roommate convinced him to become a manager.
“Traveling with them for the road games, being with them during the ups and downs of the season, it was really fun and I was so glad I found them,” Escalera said.
After graduation, Escalera will go to San Diego in November for basic division officer course.
Naval Flight Officers
Catherine Griswold, Annapolis
When her cousin would visit from the Naval Academy, Catherine Griswold, saw how he enjoyed learning about skills like leadership.
Along with her cousin, Griswold has other family in the military like her aunt, who was in the Marine Corps, and her uncle who was a doctor with the Navy.
“I decided to come to the academy because in high school I did really well academically, but in terms of leadership I didn’t get much experience,” Griswold said. “I wanted a challenge that was beyond the academics. What was better than the Naval Academy?”
Though she did not get in her first time, Griswold tried again and was accepted. Her parents are both proud of her, despite her mom being a little nervous when Griswold first said she wanted to go into the military, explained Griswold.
Some of her favorite memories included spending time with her cousin and bonding with her roommate. She also developed her talents as a leader through Yard Patrol Squadron.
“I definitely think I have learned how to talk to people and address problems more directly,” Griswold said. “Going in, I am a little anxious about telling them what to do but I have learned methods of how to do that but without being impolite.”
Griswold will go to Pensacola this August.
Claire Eckhardt, Crofton
Learning about naval ships helped foster Claire Eckhardt’s interest in the Naval Academy.
“My neighbor, who has experience in naval architecture, brought me to the Naval Academy Museum when I was in elementary school to look at the restoration of model ships,” Eckhardt said. “And I was fascinated with it.”
Eckhardt considers herself lucky to travel while in school. She’s been to Israel, Belgium, Chile and Spain and calls those trips some of her favorite memories. Other favorite memories were being with family at home.
“I have loved living close to my hometown for my four years here, and my family has really enjoyed hosting my friends and company-mates for countless weekends at my home,” Eckhardt said.
In June, she will head to flight schooland from there will serve the country.
“I decided to serve because I have been given so much all my life and I feel lucky that I am able to give back in this way,” Eckhardt said.
Jack Whaling, Severna Park
For Jack Whaling, he had numerous family members serve in the military. His grandfather, who also attended the Naval Academy and was class of 1962, helped influence his decision to also attend.
“It was always in the back of my mind, while growing up here and seeing his name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall,” said Whaling. His other family, like his uncle and grandma, talked about what to expect while attending.
“My uncle talked a lot about plebe year and also my grandma talked to me because she knew what my grandpa went through,” he explained.
“I thought I would regret it if I didn’t do it.”
“I love America and felt it was my job to do this,” he went on to say.
When he reflected on favorite memories, Whaling talked of sea trials, Ring Dance, plebe year and the croquet games.
Though his grandfather will not be at graduation, other family including his great uncle will. Afterward, Whaling will go to basic school in Quantico, Virginia, with plans to join the Marine Corps Ground.
Chris Flores, Annapolis
From an early age, Chris Flores, had many experiences with the Naval Academy and the military. His father was class of 1986 and the academy seemed like the right thing to do.
“I think I always wanted to join,” Flores said. “I live pretty close so I had a lot of interactions with the Naval Academy and the military from an early point in my life so I think that influenced me a lot.”
His family also helped him get through harder times.
“They gave me advice to keep going, the worst days are still better than a lot of people’s worst or best days,” Flores said.
While attending, Flores recalls the croquet games and ring dance as being fun experiences, but along with the fun came times of leadership and development.
“The academy has taught me that I need to better myself so I can better other people.”
Flores became the manager of the cross-country track team and worked with coaches. He saw how they operated and it him develop as a leader.
After graduation, Flores will be going to basic school in Quantico and then flight school to be a Marine Corps pilot.
Mary August, Arnold
Since she was little, Mary August went to Navy football games and knew people in her neighborhood and from her high school who went to the Naval Academy.
“I guess growing up in Annapolis, you get imbued in the culture pretty young,” August said. She didn’t consider attending until 8th grade.
When August visited other schools, they did not stand out as much as the Naval Academy, and once she started at the academy, she “loved it.”
“I loved how all the midshipmen were really involved in the community as well as having some kind of higher purpose,” explained August.
Throughout her four years at the academy, August played soccer and she found the school helped develop her career ideas.
“Coming in I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the military, but I knew I wanted to be a good leader and I definitely think this place helped me do that,” August said. “It has helped me develop into a better leader than I thought I could be.”
Through leadership positions, like being a squad leader, August learned how to “inspire people.”
In September, August will head to Quantico to become a Marine pilot.
Cassandra Zachares, Severna Park
The military is in Cassandra Zachares’ family, from her grandfather, who served as a combat engineer to her grandmother, who was a nurse in the Navy. Her family also sponsored midshipmen.
“There were a couple sponsors who were a lot like me and kept telling me about (the academy) and told me I should look into it,” Zachares said.
Serving her country, is what Zachares calls a job she is lucky to have.
“I want to do something different and impactful,” said Zachares.
For her grandparents, Zachares said they were ecstatic for her to attend the academy and to serve.
“My grandma especially wanted to go here when she was a girl, but they weren’t taking women at the time so she was a huge supporting factor,” Zachares said.
Zachares will head to Pensacola for flight school.
Sheridynn Scheppers, Annapolis
Despite having career-military parents, Sheridynn Scheppers did not plan on joining the military or attending the Naval Academy. Once she began looking at colleges and deciding on future plans, Scheppers realized she could not “imagine doing anything else.”
“On like a selfish level, it is the adventure of all of it. I thought the military would be such an adventure, like my parents had such a great time,” said Scheppers. “On a bigger level, it was just moving around all the time and seeing every piece of America.”
“I gained such a deeper appreciation of this country and I really wanted to do everything I could to give back and defend it,” she said.
While attending, Scheppers learned a lot about leadership. She interned at an all-boys school in New Jersey called St. Benedict’s Preparatory School and she worked as a ranger at a boys camp in New Mexico called Philmont Scout Ranch.
Even though she did not notice at first, those experiences shaped her as a leader and mentor.
“It was definitely very subtle because for both of those things I didn’t go into them thinking, ‘I am going to learn so much about leadership,’” Scheppers said. Afterward, she would reflect on her experiences to help address situations that arose.
Attending the academy also brought her closer to her parents.
“My mom and dad have been through everything with me and have seen me grow,” she said.
Once she graduates, Scheppers will head to Pensacola to train as a naval pilot, which she thought was funny because her parents never “actually flew in the Air Force but now I am flying in the Navy.”
Katie Wesdyk, Arnold
For over a decade, Katie Wesdyk and her family sponsored midshipmen.
“I grew up with midshipmen. They were all very good role models and they were hard working,” Wesdyk said.
While attending the academy, Wesdyk participated in the National Outdoor Leadership School and backpacked for a month in Alaska as part of her summer training.
“It was the first time I ever did big camping like that,” she said. “There was a lot of work but really pretty sights.”
Beyond the physical training, Wesdyk worked on research with water security. With her research, she was able to travel to countries like Haiti, Morocco, Ghana, Peru, Brazil and Spain.
Her research with water security also dealt with technical, economical and social factors. She will attend Harvard to get her master’s in public policy, she said.
Once she is finished, she might work with water and engineering.
“I am going submarine so once I get out maybe I can do something with water or engineering then a political and economic degree,” said Wesdyk.
Hannah Lindsay, Pasadena
Hannah Lindsay recalled how her grandfather, who was a paratrooper in the Army, would tell her that she could be a good officer.
“I had totally ignored him in typical granddaughter form,” said Lindsay with a smile. But with her grandfather, the uniqueness of the academy and the ability to become a good leader, were all factors that inspired her.
“Coming here it was different from anything I expected it to be, but also so much more uplifting as an experience,” Lindsay said. “The friendships and bonds that I have made are different than anything else I’ve experienced.”
During the first few weeks of plebe summer, Lindsay bonded with others and without her roommates she might not have stayed, she said.
“They got me through to this point -- going through hard things you never imagined you would be doing definitely bonds you in a different way,” she explained.
Lindsay questioned herself about leadership until she became a detailer of 10 people over plebe summer last year. It showed her how her confidence flourished.
“Leading them into their first experience into the military, and being able to do that successfully and feel like they gained something from me being there, I definitely think that made me see what this experience has done for me,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay also participated in the Sexual Harassment and Prevention Education (SHAPE) organization and led the program and the midshipmen who are part of it.
“Everyone is willing to talk about it, if you start the conversation,” said Lindsay. “I definitely think that made me more passionate about starting those conversations.”
After graduation, Lindsay will head to medical school in the fall at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda.
Her grandfather plans on attending graduation and wearing his Vietnam hat, she said.
“My grandfather is going to be my first salute, he is super excited and talked about the first salute for like two years,” Lindsay said.