Having attended the Air Force Academy Summer Seminar in Colorado Springs, CO, the Naval Academy Summer Seminar in Annapolis, MD, and Girls’ State in Farmville, VA, C. Grace Alexander has already had an extremely busy summer, and she’s not finished yet. Next week she heads out to New London, CT, to attend the Coast Guard Academy’s summer program, called Academy Introduction Mission (AIM).
The daughter of Lyle and Melinda Alexander of Front Royal, Grace is a rising senior at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal. Her experience with Air Force JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) at Randolph-Macon had given her an idea of what to expect at the Air Force and Naval academies, but she would be the first to admit that the Virginia Girls’ State program held at Longwood University was much more of an unknown adventure.
“We talked about the issues facing America today,” she said. These topics included water, childhood cancer, human trafficking, and education. The session overall was leadership-focused, but rather than having a military focus as the academy seminars did, it had a government focus, with the 600 girls in attendance hearing from the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general of Virginia, among others.
It was an interesting set-up, Alexander said. “Each hallway is a city. We decorated our halls and elected mayors and sheriffs,” she said, adding that her hallway won the “Model City” honor for the best city.
Alexander indicated that attending the three different programs in three weeks was exhausting but fascinating, and drove home the difference in the programs’ philosophies. The Air Force seminar focused on academics. Because the administration knows that most of the visiting students are not acclimated to the elevation, there was limited physical training. In contrast, during the Naval Academy seminar, Alexander said they spent 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in physical training every day. At both academy seminars, there was a rigid schedule and the student leaders in charge made it a point to yell loud enough to be heard. Meanwhile, at Girls’ State, no one enforced a lights-out time, but there was still a bit of a military flavor, as the “sheriff” woke everyone, the girls marched in “twosies” from place to place, and the students took part in a POW/MIA ceremony.
Alexander's obvious motivation behind attending all of these summer sessions is to build up her resume for her applications to the service academies. In fact, after her experiences, she is more determined than ever to attend one of them. The U.S.Air Force Academy excited her with opportunities such as being on the flight team and parachuting on the jump team, while the Naval Academy also captured her attention with a major in cyber operations, which is a combination of computer science and international relations. However, her underlying motivation for all of what she does is to serve others.
"I want to help people. I want to make a difference," she said. "If I go into cyber operations, I can help protect the whole country."
She is already serving her ambition to help others: Alexander was elected to be the Community Service Officer for the National Honor Society for the 2013-14 school year, and regularly volunteers in the admission and development offices on campus. She does this in between flying (she earned her solo wings this school year) and wrestling, running cross-country, and playing soccer. She is a member of the National English Honor Society and an honorary member of the German National Honor Society. She is also a member of cadre, the cadet leadership in the Air Force JROTC program; this past year, she was the Command Chief, the highest-ranking junior on campus.
"Coming to R-MA, I didn't see the military in my future. I wanted to do non-profit work," she said. "But now I realize they both emphasize the same thing: serving others."
Now she is looking forward to the Coast Guard Academy's AIM program. "In the Air Force and Navy summer seminars, we were basically pretending to be freshmen for a day," she said. "At the Coast Guard, we will actually be with the freshmen for a week."
Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational day and boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12. Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA's 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and have the option to participate in a unique flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.