McAuley grad up for mighty big challenge at Coast Guard Academy
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent June 4, 2014 9:40PM
Mother McAuley graduate Sara Nolan, pictured in the outdoor commons of the school, has been appointed to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. | Ginger Brashinger/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 7, 2014 6:14AM
Mother McAuley graduate Sara Nolan isn’t afraid of spending a “swab summer” at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, and she’s not worried about her first tour on a large, seagoing vessel even though she’s “never been on a ship larger than a speedboat,” she said.
“I’m more excited because it’s new experiences,” said Nolan, 18. “It’s definitely going to be different.”
As a National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society and Catherine McAuley Honor Scholar student at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, Nolan received an appointment to the Coast Guard Academy, the equivalent of a four-year scholarship, Mother McAuley director of marketing and communication Jennifer Busk said.
Nolan said the appointment directs the path of her life for nearly the next decade.
“I come out of (the academy) as an officer and give five years of service,” Nolan said.
Nolan, who considers math and science her “strong points,” is planning to study civil engineering.
Last summer, Nolan got a taste of what “swab summer” will be like when she attended the weeklong Academy Introduction Mission Program on campus in New London, Connecticut.
“It really gives you a glimpse into what this summer will be like,” Nolan said. “It’s intense.”
As one of the “lowest of the low” during “swab summer” this year, Nolan said, she and her fellow freshman classmates will follow the directions of a “cadre,” Academy upperclassmen who lead the Coast Guard’s basic training.
Nolan is ready.
“I would consider myself a disciplined person. I’m organized; I’m determined. When I set my mind to do something, I go out and do it, and if I don’t get it, I won’t stop until I do get it,” she said.
The Beverly community resident credits her education at Mother McAuley for her positive attitude.
“You can tell who is a McAuley girl,” Nolan said. “They’re just so different because they’re leaders. I feel like the biggest thing is leadership and confidence that I’ve learned from McAuley.”
Nolan was an active student during her four years in high school. She was a student ambassador, known as the McAuley “sales force,” attending recruiting events such as open houses to which sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls were invited.
Nolan believes other girls will benefit as she has from attending a single gender school.
“I have learned so much, especially confidence,” Nolan said. “I just learned how to be myself.”
In her senior year, she served as a leader for Kairos, a Christian religious retreat she said helped students “discover who you are” and about personal relationships with “others, yourself and God.”
There is a lighter side to her activities. Nolan said nothing was more enjoyable than leading the crowd at a pep rally or sporting event while wearing the giant “M” as the “Mighty M” McAuley mascot.
“That was crazy,” Nolan said. “That was the best time of my life.”
Her favorite activity outside of school is working as a volunteer with the Special Olympics, Nolan said. She became a Special Olympics volunteer as a sixth-grader at Clissold Elementary School. During her high school years, she joined her mother, Laura, who worked with the Special Olympics as a special-needs aide at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.
“The athletes are all determined no matter what, so that inspires me to be determined myself and to just appreciate daily life,” Nolan said. “That just gives me more inspiration to use all my resources to the best of my ability.”
Nolan confessed that leaving her parents, Laura and Matt Nolan, her three brothers — Ryan, 22; Cody, 17 and Jack, 12 — her “best friend since 4 years old” Mary Claire Murphy, and her dog Layla, another “best friend,” will be difficult. But the connections she already has made with other freshmen-to-be headed for the Coast Guard Academy are making the transition a comfortable one.
“They’re all there for one goal,” Nolan said. “They’re all there to serve their country.
“I’m more excited than I am nervous. I’m so ready.”