Stories to tell: NU Class of 2011
arrives on campus © Aug. 29, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications

Photo of Charles Beagan

photo by Jay Ericson Charles Beagan after arriving at Norwich for Rook Week.

On a warm Sunday morning in August, 382 Rooks in pressed white shirts and khaki pants flood the campus. It’s the first day of Rook Orientation Week, and many look unsure of exactly what they’ll experience in the days ahead. Most walk with parents; some have younger brothers and sisters along to see them off on this first step of a long journey.

After in processing in the Shapiro Field House, they sit down to lunch in the main dining area of the new Wise Campus Center with its expansive view of the Upper Parade Ground.

In the crowd is seventeen-year-old Charles Beagan from Watertown, Mass. Instead of going to the prom and attending his graduation ceremony like most of his high school classmates, Beagan spent the summer at Parris Island, the Marine Corps training facility located outside Beaufort, S.C.

We got a pretty good taste of what we are in for. I’m pumped to be here.

~ Victoria Amador

“I knew I wanted to serve my country, and this (missing graduation) was the only way I could accomplish what I set out to do,” Beagan said. He plans to major in computer security and information assurance.

A few days before he left for boot camp, family, friends and teachers put together a special graduation ceremony for him. Beagan’s civics teacher, John Rimas, said his student’s aspirations are remarkable.

“He’s doing something courageous,” Rimas said. “It’s admirable for a high school senior to be that mature.”

Outside of Norwich’s Goodyear Hall, eighteen-year-old Victoria Amador from San Antonio, Tex., talks to her friend Unna Lee. Amador and Lee came to Norwich from John Jay High School with fellow JROTC student Amber Heckman. “We have a big JROTC program and Norwich is a common choice for a lot of us,” Amador said.

The group visited the Northfield campus in April to talk to students and get a feel for the school. They even joined in on a morning PT session. “We got a pretty good taste of what we are in for,” Amador said, “I’m pumped to be here.”

Amador and Lee both plan to pursue degrees in civil engineering, a career field in which women are not well represented. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women earned more than half of all bachelor’s degrees awarded since 1982, but less that 20 percent of all the engineering and engineering technology degrees awarded in any given year go to women.

After lunch, the next stop for the Rooks is the Kreitzberg Arena, where they will say goodbye to friends and family and join their companies for the first time. Sitting on a folding chair in the arena is 18-year-old Alec Gendron, from St. Charles, Illinois.

A chief master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol with nineteen search and rescue missions under his belt, Gendron is well known in his hometown for his commitment to service. Gendron’s patriotism and work ethic even attracted the interest of television producers from the British Broadcasting Company, who featured him in the television special, Generation Next: Today’s Voices, Tomorrow’s World, which aired in December.

While speaking at a Veteran’s Day school assembly at his high school, Gendron received a standing ovation. Robert Freitag, Gendron’s career counselor, said of the accolade, “That is something to see, two thousand students giving a standing ovation to one of their own. I see a lot of passion in students, but you don’t see a lot of students who are passionate about the military the way Alec is.”

The day after he gave the speech, Gendron travelled to Northfield to see the campus first hand. “This was the first college I visited. I was accepted at VMI the Citadel and some of the other military academies,” he said. It was his experience with the Corps that drove him to choose Norwich, though. “They had a quiet confidence about them, and that attracted me. They are what officers ought to be.”

A few days into Rook Orientation Week the shouts of marching formations echo off the buildings on campus. On Wednesday the traditional students arrive to round out the class of 2011. Native Vermonter Mackenzie Pratt is among them.

A popular three-sport athlete at Lamoille Union High School, Pratt was in the National Honor Society in the 11th and 12th grade. Despite her accomplishments it has been a rough couple of years for the eighteen-year-old Hyde Park resident.

Last year doctors found three small tumors in her chest, each about the size of a quarter. They were in the same area where a larger tumor was treated about a year earlier.

Over the summer, Pratt underwent treatment that involved chemotherapy and the removal of stem cells that will later be replanted to help restore her red-blood-cell count. These experiences prompted her to come to Norwich, where she plans to study nursing.

“The nurses I interacted with inspired me,” she said. “They cared about me and wanted me out of that hospital bed as much as I wanted to get out of that hospital bed.”

The Norwich class of 2011 is one of the largest classes in recent years, nearly 10-percent larger than the one brought in last year. If Beagan, Amador, Gendron and Pratt are any indication of the promise and potential they hold, they will be remembered by more than a spike on a university enrollment chart. They will be remembered as a committed group of students who set out to achieve distinction.