St. John’s and the military go way back.
The campus itself can tell you that, what with its monument to unknown French allies killed in the Revolutionary War, a cannon used to defend Baltimore in the War of 1812, and a memorial to alumni officers who fell in World War I. In fact, after the Union army turned the grounds into a medical camp during the Civil War, St. John’s continued as a highly respected military school for the next sixty years. It also didn’t hurt that the Naval Academy was a literal stone’s throw away from campus: in 1924, St. John’s president Maj. Enoch Garey introduced the first ever Naval ROTC program to our campus, the prototype for every NROTC program now operating across the nation.
It’s no surprise, then, that many Johnnies are veterans or aspire to be them; however, one of our newest graduate students is in a league of her own. Lieutenant Nichella Nal, herself a graduate of The George Washington University’s NROTC program, is the first Johnnie whose enrollment counts as part of her shore tour.
Selected for the Graduate Education Plus Teaching (GET) Program, Lt. Nal will complete four consecutive semesters at St. John’s before going on to teach English to midshipmen that same stone’s throw away. The program funds postgraduate studies for selected officers in return for a two-year duty of instruction at the Naval Academy.
“I’ve never taught before,” she explained, adding: “I begin teaching two and a half weeks after I graduate from here.”
But is she daunted?
“A bit, but I try to take everything with a smile.”
This gung-ho attitude is the norm for Lt. Nal, who shipped off to Japan only days after graduating from George Washington in 2015. She went on to China, Dubai, and Bahrain, all while being one of only six women working in a division with 75 other men. She drove an LHD (Landing Helicopter Dock, an amphibious assault ship longer than two football fields) in the Middle East and successfully landed F-18 jets upon it.
Lt. Nal was quick to credit her comrades-in-arms for much of her success, and it was one of her captains who informed her of the GET program. On his urging, she applied and secured her spot as an officer-instructor. Now it was time to find a school. George Mason University was selected for her — and then she got a call.
“A captain at the Naval Academy said, ‘So there’s a new program at St. John’s College in Annapolis. You’re going to be the first one to go through it, and you’re going to go through it alone.’ I had never heard of St. John’s; I asked my original sponsor who suggested the GET program in the first place what he knew about it. He had no clue.”
True to form, however, Lt. Nal thought of the positive side to this turn of events: “At least I won’t have to relocate after I graduate like all the rest of the officer-instructors attending faraway schools.” And once she started researching St. John’s and finding article after article talking about its one-of-a-kind education, she felt more confident with her orders to come here.
“I’ve learned so much already from my classmates. Most of them being teachers themselves, I love sharing class with them and hearing their opinions because it’s helping me prepare for my first teaching job.”
This reporter has no doubt Lt. Nal will continue taking whatever comes her way with a smile, whether it be Kant in the Philosophy & Theology segment or twenty midshipmen in a classroom.
Nevertheless, one question remained: who will she root for in the Annapolis Cup?
“One of my classmates has already asked me that!” She laughed. “Well, the Naval Academy’s employing me, but I’ll have Johnnie friends…so I’ll just stand in the middle and bring the snacks!”