Duluth graduate bids adieu to civilian life

An entry on her family's blog is indicative of the unique college choice Michelle Lanford has made. The blog entry gives her summer mailing address, but also reminds perspective pen pals that letters sent to her at school may be opened and read aloud.

No, the recent Duluth High grad hasn't been paired with nosy roommates. The intercepted mail is just part of the initiation process as Lanford prepares for her first year at the United States Naval Academy.

There will be plenty more adjustments for Lanford as she moves from civilian life to life at the Academy, but she's ready for them. After all, earning an appointment to the Naval Academy has been a goal since she was a sophomore in high school.

"I looked at the Web site and became fascinated with the tradition and honor of the school," Lanford said. "Definitely, my father with his military background (was an influence). And I had a really good ROTC instructor.

"He always had me striving for the best, and the (Naval) Academy is the best."

Lanford's father, Richard, is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, and Gunnery Sgt. Scott Bargar was her ROTC instructor. They may have given her the impetus to attend the Naval Academy, but the drive was her own. She focused on her goal and attained it, becoming the only female from Gwinnett County to earn an appointment to the Naval Academy this year.

She is very thankful to U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., who gave her the appointment, and very aware that her choice - she wants to make the military her career - is pretty unique for a woman.

"It's a great honor (to earn an appointment). I just want to make the Academy proud," Lanford said. "And it's also a great honor to be an inspiration for other young women."

Lanford drove to Annapolis, Md., on Friday with her family, getting her hair cut short before the trip. She donated her shorn hair to "Locks of Love," which helps financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss. She was happy to make the donation, but the hair cut was also another example of her unique choice of colleges.

"It was a little shocking to see all my hair come off," she said. "It was kind of like, 'Oh, I'm really going.'

"(But) I feel good. I feel ready to go."

On Wednesday morning, her unique choice becomes official when she starts Plebe summer at the Academy. She'll enjoy letters from home, even if they are read aloud, and she'll continue her goal of living up to the Academy's standards, a goal that should make us all proud.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Tuesdays.