I have a lot of opportunities to be proud of my alma mater. The men and women I lived and worked alongside during my four years at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) made me a better leader, challenged me to set high expectations for myself, and made me a more capable and confident person. The alumni network that I have been a part of since has only increased my respect for those who woke up every day to take on the challenges of life as a Midshipman.
It is not lost on me that my experience was very different than that of the women who came before me. And that I owe a lot to those who blazed the trail for women to become full participants at USNA, in the military, and in the workforce.
That’s why I am so excited to see USNA recognizing a female graduate who blazed trails in all aspects of her professional life as a Distinguished Graduate. Retired Navy Captain Wendy Lawrence (USNA Class of 1981) was selected as a 2019 Distinguished Graduate.
Lawrence joins Dr. J. Phillip London (’59), retired Admiral Robert J. Natter (’67), retired Colonel Walter P. Havenstein (’71), and retired Admiral Robert F. Willard (’73) as 2019’s Distinguished Graduates. Distinguished Graduates are selected by the USNA Alumni Association to recognize “graduates who have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to service, personal character and distinguished contributions to our nation.”
The first class with women arrived at the USNA campus (“The Yard’) in 1976 and graduated in 1980. Wendy Lawrence was in the class of 1981 and a true trailblazer for women at the Academy. Since graduation, Lawrence had an illustrious career as a naval aviator, receiving numerous awards and recognition for her service and leadership.
She was one of two female helicopter pilots to be the first women deployed to the Indian Ocean with a carrier battle group. She joined NASA in 1992 as an astronaut and accumulated over 1,225 hours in space as part of four space flights. She was the first female naval officer to fly in space. I don’t care if you are a man or woman—flying in space is a big deal.
Congratulations to Captain Lawrence and the other 2019 Distinguished Graduates. They are all worthy of celebration and admiration. As a fellow female service academy graduate separated by 27 years of USNA history and overcoming obstacles, I welcome the chance to see women in STEM recognized for their leadership and contributions.