Just over three years ago, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (Florida) nominated me to attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), one of the nation’s five federal service academies.
Seeking admission to one of the academies is daunting for any student, but as a first-generation college student with less-than-perfect SAT and ACT scores I was unsure of my prospects and wondered if the senator’s faith in me was misguided.
I am proud beyond words to say that I was accepted to the Academy, one of the most respected, rigorous academic institutions in the country. As I approach my senior year, it is my hope these words will inspire other high school seniors to consider an education at the one of the service academies.
For those who are unfamiliar, USMMA — like West Point and Annapolis —prepares graduates to serve America’s defense needs in times of peace and war. Midshipmen graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree, a U.S. Coast Guard license, an officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces, and an obligation to serve our country.
Other than the service obligation, the costs of attending the Academy are minimal. Most USMMA graduates meet their obligation by sailing on their license for five years in the U.S. maritime industry and serving as a reservist for eight years, but some choose to spend those same five years as active duty in the armed forces.
I am one of the latter.
Kings Point, NY, (home of the Academy) might seem an odd choice for a student not planning on entering the maritime industry; after all, the school provides a steady pipeline of mariners who sail on U.S. flag merchant marine vessels. However, the value students derive from attending the Academy doesn’t exclusively come from maritime-specific training.
At the USMMA, I have learned how to think, how to lead and how to serve the community, and that through diligence and relentless effort I am capable of anything I want to achieve in this life.
Critical to this learning process was my Sea Year experience, the 12 months I spent aboard U.S. flag vessels working alongside some of the finest professional mariners in the world. Completing Sea Year is a requirement for midshipmen to graduate from the Academy, but it hardly feels as such. During my Sea Year, I traveled to places I never thought possible — from China to Greece to Bahrain — did things I didn’t even know existed and made memories that will last forever.
However, Sea Year didn’t just leave me with stories I hope to one day tell my grandchildren. It provided real-world opportunities to pick up and hone practical skills absolutely essential to my professional life. Although my ultimate goal is to serve our country as an Army pilot and chaplain, I can say my time at sea unequivocally prepared me for anything that might come my way.
Navigating a 712-foot container ship through the port of Shanghai in the middle of the night, for example, leaves one with a reinforced sense of self-confidence.
Sen. Nelson, thank you for believing in me. When you personally called in 2014 to congratulate me on my acceptance to the Academy, I knew I had made the right decision. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is one of America’s great institutions. My time there transformed my future.
Michelle Perri graduated from Felix Varela High School and now attends the United States Merchant Marine Academy. A native of Miami, Michelle was nominated to attend the Academy by Senator Bill Nelson in 2013.