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Bedford's Parsons flies high after West Point
Jennifer Parsons of Bedford receives her degree in mechanical engineering from Vice President Joe Biden. (Courtesy)
BEDFORD — When Jennifer Parsons began her studies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, she knew it would be a different experience, but she never imagined that she would receive her degree from the Vice President of the United States.
Joe Biden confers the degrees on the top 3 percent of the graduating class, Parsons said.
“I ended up being what's called an honor graduate,” said Parsons, who ranked 29th in a class of 1,050.
“It was kind of intimidating,” Parsons said, “but he was really nice. It was quite an honor.”
Parsons, who grew up in Bedford, studied mechanical engineering, with a focus on aerospace, and like her fellow graduates, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army.
Parsons was the recipient of several awards, including highest degree of excellence in mechanical engineering, the highest GPA in aeronautical systems, excellence in aerodynamics and outstanding Alpine skier.
She has committed the next seven years to serving her country, and heads to flight school in Alabama in a few weeks.
“They pay for school, then you agree to be in the Army to pay it back,” Parsons said.
Parsons said she hadn't thought of a military career until a guidance counselor brought it up in her junior year at Bishop Brady High School.
She visited the campus in New York for a week the summer before her senior year and loved it.
“I knew I was going to regret it if I didn't try,” she said.
Parsons described her first year as a culture shock. Not having any family military experience to draw from, she was unused to the discipline required of students and the rules that went along with it.
“It was sort of love/hate at the beginning,” she said.
All cadets must transition to military life, learning military courtesies and standards, how to properly wear the various cadet uniforms, practicing drills and how to prepare for inspections.
As a woman, Parsons found herself in the minority, but played on West Point's softball team, where she bonded and formed friendships with other young women.
“That gave me some girl time in a male-dominated world,” she said. “It was a good support network. I made a lot of good friends along the way.”
Despite the challenges she faced, Parsons knew that once she graduated she would be in a position much different from many other college graduates.
“I knew when I came out I would have no student loans, no debt, a job, and above all, a great education,” she said.
While Parsons said she may not get to use her mechanical engineering degree right away, she'll be doing other work that interests her: flying helicopters.
Parsons spent last summer as an intern at the NASA Ames Research Center in San Francisco, where she helped to design new helicopters for the military.
Back from a family vacation to Italy and Greece, Parsons is enjoying some time off before leaving July 20 for flight school, where she will learn to both fly helicopters and lead soldiers in the air.
Parsons is excited for the next phase of her life.
“I can't wait to see what the big army is like,” she said.
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Kathy Remillard may be reached at email@example.com.
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