Running off to sea is something many children, and even some adults, dream of, but for one recent Carthage High School graduate, that dream is on its way to become a reality.

Running off to sea is something many children, and even some adults, dream of, but for one recent Carthage High School graduate, that dream is on its way to become a reality.

Emily Petersen, 2012 CHS graduate, was looking to keep her options open in the future, so she chose to attend the United States Merchant Marine Academy. She leaves for the academy and its rigorous four-year program on July 5.

Petersen said the Merchant Marine Academy, located at Kings Point, N.Y., is one of the smallest service academies, with classes of between 250 and 300 compared to more than 1,000 students in a class for the larger academies, but graduating from the academy creates more options for someone than any other academy.

“Upon graduation, you have the choice to go into any branch of the armed services, granted that you pass their training,” Petersen said. “You can join the reserves and be an officer on a merchant ship to do engineering or deck. Or you can go active duty in any branch. Whereas if you go Naval Academy, you have to do Navy or Marines, and so, say, if you go to the Coast Guard academy and you decide you don't want to do this, you're stuck. You don't have another choice.”

Petersen said she hopes to some day become a deck officer on a large container ship and train to navigate or pilot the huge vessels, that can reach the length of three football fields.

Petersen said she is also considering serving in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

“When I was little, I was always interested in being in the military, but I wasn't aware of service academies until my dad told me about them,” Petersen said. “I was interested in going to West Point or the Naval Academy, and my dad said 'You know there are more than that, right?' There's Coast Guard and there's Air Force and there is the Merchant Marine.”

Petersen really started doing her research early, in junior high school, and that's when she set a goal for herself and decided to go for the Merchant Marine Academy.

She credits CHS Counselor Donna Aronson and CHS Vice Principal Milt Wick with helping her make her choice and get into the academy.

“Mrs. Aronson has done so much to get me into this,” Petersen said. “She's written so many recommendation letters and so many hours of putting up with me trying to get things done. Mr. Wick really did encourage me to do this because he's a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps and I would go and talk to him. I didn't even know what a roll-on-roll-off ship was and he told me. He's very intelligent and I appreciate Mrs. Aronson and Mr. Wick so much. They are amazing.”

She also thanked Sen. Roy Blunt and Congressman Billy Long for their appointment to the academy. Like the other service academies, the Merchant Marine Academy requires a congressional appointment.

Petersen said the Merchant Marine academy includes four years of academic training and a year-long internship and compresses that five years of training into four years.

“The other academies, yes you are regimented and you have training, but they are more like a college atmosphere, it's mostly academics,” Petersen said. “The Merchant Marine Academy has that four years of academics and puts it in three years. You are going crazy. When you are at sea, you have sea projects to do, so you still get credits. It's basically like a huge homework assignment in addition to your two four-hour shifts a day on the ship.”

Petersen said her friends and classmates have trouble understanding where she's going to school.

“People at my school had no idea what the Merchant Marine Academy was and I was like, 'I'm going there,'” Petersen said. “They said you're going to Marines school and I had to say, 'Yeah, kind of.' I had to explain it and a lot of people didn't get it until the (Carthage High School) academic awards ceremony came up and they announced it was $217,000 worth of education. When my counselor said that they're like ‘whoa, she got a scholarship,’ and I was like, 'Kind of.' It's not like I really see the money, but I don't have to pay it. I pay about $6,000 in fees over four years and when I go on my internships, which are about 10 to 12 months, the company that I'm with has to pay me $1,000 a month, so technically, that money I get back.”

Petersen said preparations and research she made in junior high helped her get to this point. She's also worked two jobs in the summer and one in the winter, was senior class president and a leader in a number of different clubs in high school.

She said her goal in high school was to be “a well-rounded person,” and leave school with no regrets.

“If you work as hard as you can, you won't have any regrets about it in the future,” she said. “There are older people I've met that say 'Man, I wish I would have worked harder in high school.' It's only four years and those can be the best four years or the worst four years. I don't really have any regrets about it and I don't really wish I had done anything more because I don't think I could have done more.”