ST. MARYS — After completing coursework a semester early to go to boot camp last February, senior Priscilla Dodson will return on Sunday to walk in commencement with her graduating class at Memorial High School, but set apart, in her dress blues, as a Marine.
It’s not the first time Dodson will feel different from her classmates.
“Growing up in St. Marys was really hard for me,” she said. “A lot of people don’t accept individuals. In a small town, it’s hard when you’re not an athlete. I was bullied a lot in junior high. I definitely wanted to prove to myself and others I was strong.”
When Dodson left in February, she said she knew that in some ways she would be stand out in the military as well. Less than 6 percent of Marines are women, she said.
“So far, they stress sexual assault prevention,” Dodson said. “They teach us in the boot camp we’re all the same, all equal. Yeah, you have some people criticize you for doing what they consider a man’s job. But boot camp taught me how to deal with that.”
When Dodson first went to camp, she said it was hard on some of the women, who wondered early on whether the decision was right for them.
“For me, I never felt like that,” Dodson said. “I never forgot why I was there. I knew it was where I was supposed to be.”
Dodson graduated basic training on Friday having learned combat and survival skills along with core values.
She did physical training four to five times per week, learned map reading, what to do if she’s dropped in the desert without help.
“We also learned a lot about psychology,” Dodson said. “How people will react to things, and how you should react.”
Though she’s graduated boot camp, she will continue training in a 16-day warrior training that will involve weapons and field environments. She will also train for her specialty in combat engineering, where she will learn how to construct buildings and work with explosives to demolish structures. With her specialty, Dodson said she will probably be deployed often into combat zones.
Dodson said she looks forward to walking in uniform to accept her diploma.
“It’s just feeling I did something very few women do before most people graduate high school,” Dodson said. “I’ll be able to see the people who bullied me graduating.”
Dodson said she thinks those people will be surprised by her transformation in the Marines.
“I carry myself differently,” she said.
Dodson said that for other students who are bullied, she would recommend the military or doing something out of St. Marys.
“After you go, you experience being part of something bigger than MTV Friday nights or football games,” she said. “We need responsibility. I think of how far I’ve come from a kid that used to get picked on to a strong woman defending our country.”