Antrim woman makes ROTC history at Columbia University

Union Leader Correspondent
May 20. 2014 10:22PM
ConVal High School graduate Abigale Wyatt, foreground, is the first Naval ROTC cadet to earn a commission at Columbia University since the program was reinstated after more than 40 years. (FROM VIDEO COURTESY OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY)

A 2005 ConVal High School graduate is making history this week at Columbia University in New York.

Today, 26-year-old Abigale Wyatt is set to receive her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Columbia’s School of General Studies. On Thursday she will be commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy, the first Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps graduate from Columbia since 1973, and the program’s first-ever female graduate.

Following the commissioning ceremony, Wyatt will head to Pensacola, Fla., to begin Navy pilot training.

Wyatt served 3 1/2 years in the Navy before coming to Columbia in 2012 in a program for enlisted sailors called Seaman to Admiral for the 21st Century.

“I’m excited about the opportunities. I’ve been pretty lucky with my Navy career so far,” Wyatt said Monday. “I’m really excited to see what comes next.”

Wyatt grew up in Merrimack and then in Antrim. She graduated early from ConVal High School in Peterborough and jumped right into classes at the University of Massachusetts, according to her mother, Jane Wyatt of Antrim. Then she dropped out, moved to Arizona, came back, and couch-surfed, her mother said.

“She always marched to the beat of her own drum,” Jane Wyatt said.

In 2008, Abigale Wyatt was working for the Boston Duck Tours when she came home one day and announced she was joining the Navy. Jane Wyatt said the news surprised her, even though Wyatt’s dad, William Wyatt, was a Navy veteran.

Abigale Wyatt said before enlisting, she had been wandering aimlessly.

“At the time I had been moving around a lot. I never had a job for more than a few months,” she said. “So, yeah, it was a surprise to everyone else, but for me it was the next challenge. I was missing something, and the Navy filled that void.”

The discipline and structure of the Navy didn’t stifle her creativity and energy, Wyatt said.

“I actually thrived under the discipline ... It helps me direct my energy in a more positive way than I did before.”

After basic training, the Navy sent her to a language school in Monterey, Calif. She learned several dialects of Arabic and went on to be a translator at a National Security Agency facility in Augusta, Ga.

Going back to college to earn a bachelor’s in mathematics was the next challenge. Wyatt applied for the officers program and was surprised to be accepted.

ROTC units were booted off college campuses decades ago as anti-war sentiment raged in the early 1970s. Columbia ended its ROTC program in 1973, but Wyatt was able to take advantage of the university re-launching the program.

“There are a lot of women in the Navy. It’s just that Columbia hasn’t had the program in so long,” she said. “The school’s been super supportive,” she said, adding that Columbia provided her with a well-rounded education with its core curriculum classes in art, music and the humanities.

Wyatt said she doesn’t think about being a woman in the military. She just focuses on doing her best. And right now, Wyatt said she is excited to leave school and get back into the fleet.

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