In a few weeks, Raleigh Charter graduating senior Margaret Ireland will pack up her bags and head to the United States Military Academy at West Point, a choice she hadn’t even considered less than a year ago.
When Ireland, 18, got a call from West Point in September, she found herself intrigued by the idea of attending the academy and what the Army could offer.
She said West Point became her top choice for its academics and the opportunities it offered to travel and try new things.
Ireland, who was born in Atlanta and grew up in Wake Forest, will compete on the swim team there and plans to study comparative law.
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“I’m really excited to be able to serve my country in the best way that I can,” she said.
She’s one of several hundred women expected in this year’s entering class at a time when the academy is trying to draw more women.
By 2016, the Army plans to have integrated women into all of its units – a change that means women will have access to combat positions now closed to them.
Of 308 women offered admission this year, 267 have accepted, said Maj. John Turner, part of the academy’s admission team. The academy expects to have incoming class of about 1,200.
Ireland said she’s not worried about thriving in an environment where men are a significant majority.
Ireland also considered the news about rape and sexual assault rates across the military but decided the academy would be a safe place for her – in part, she says, because the risks for college women would be real no matter where she attends.
‘A great example’
At Raleigh Charter, Ireland’s extracurricular activities included Key Club, a service organization; the Student Legislative Assembly; Model UN; and the swim team.
Matthew Mosher, the school’s head swimming coach, said Ireland has exemplified the team’s core values of hard work, selflessness, commitment and teamwork.
“As they say, actions speak louder than words. She sets a great example and her teammates absolutely look up to her example,” he said.
Mosher still recalls the swim meet several years ago when Ireland came to him ready to give up her spot at the next level of competition so that her teammate, whom she thought had just missed qualifying, could race.
“To be willing to step out of the spotlight so someone else can just have a chance to go is a perfect example of the kind of character she has,” he said.
Ireland said it was a simple choice to make the offer.
“I just wanted her to swim in finals so bad,” she said.
During her final year of high school, Ireland was inspired to pursue a career in law by her “Constitutional Issues” class, during which students study the origins of the U.S. political system.
“I learned to care so much about this country – its history and its political structure. I was just captivated,” she said.
She thinks the Army will give her a chance to put that passion to use.
“It’s just a really exciting offer,” she said.