My name is Jaquelyn Burton, and I’ve been interested in boating and all things involving the ocean for a long time. When I was four my great-grandfather let me drive his boat on Shuswap Lake in British Columbia, Canada. I still remember it! My great-grandfather would tell us stories of the Ogopogo monster that lived in the lake when it was getting late (just in time for the walk from the main lodge to the cabin to go to sleep.) We went to the lake every summer until I was about eight. After that my parents would take us to Rye Beach in New Hampshire on warm summer days so we could spend the days exploring the tide pools and capturing the creatures that lived in them, only to be told that we could not keep them and had to let them go before we drove home. From that time on I have been interested in all things concerning the ocean, lakes, rivers, water in general, and all the things contained therein.
Once I had pointed my interest towards the ocean and its creatures, my parents being supportive of my interests let me attend summer camp at Sea World in Orlando Florida, I was 12. You can imagine how excited a twelve-year-old would be at the prospects of feeding sharks and playing with dolphins. It was a fantastic two weeks for me. We went into the Everglades and caught small creatures to see what we could learn about their health. We took a boat out at night and captured bio-luminescent plankton (because of every twelve-year-old needs a jar that glows when you shake it.) We got to release baby sea turtles into the wild – possibly the cutest moment I’ve ever been a part of that involved reptiles. And then there was the lab where we dissected a shark and a whole bunch of starfish, can’t say it was my favorite part of camp (I didn’t like the smell,) but it was exciting and I am glad I got to be part of it.
I spent lots of time reading about marine biology after that and took the time to get my SCUBA certifications and my NH safe boating license. I enrolled in the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps which is a youth program geared towards the Navy. I took advantage of a lot of the great opportunities that that program offered, many were school vacation camps and weekend events, all of which are of a great benefit to me now.
At fourteen I went on a tour of England, France, and Italy with a high school group from my area, I enjoyed it. Before then I had almost cartoon-ish images of what other contents were like, and my only exposure to foreign culture and language was when we would visit my Grannie and Grampy in Montreal, Canada.
When I was seventeen I was trying to figure out what university would best serve my interest and allow me to pursue a viable career in a field I would enjoy. I had previously given it some thought and picked out the United States Coast Guard Academy as my school of choice. Some of my reasons were that I could major in the field of marine biology and that it was free (I am the second child of eight, so I knew I would have to pay my own way). But, upon further reflection, did I want to be active duty Coast Guard? My answer was: No, not really. Would I be able to support myself comfortably in the field of marine biology? My response was again: No, not really. I don’t have anything against the Coast Guard Academy or marine biologists, but I don’t think it would have been the right choice for me.
At that point I had to re-evaluate my career choice: I knew I liked water, that I wanted to travel, that school needed to be cheap, and that I wanted a career where I could excel and live comfortably. A simple but somewhat demanding list. I finally decided on the United States Merchant Marine Academy it like the Coast Guard or Naval Academy, has excellent academics and was all scholarship with minimal student fees. Unlike the other four federal academies, its graduates are licensed to work aboard merchant vessels and instead of requiring graduates to go on active duty you can choose any branch active or reserves or NOAA. So I spent my Senior year going through the year-long application process and taking classes at the New Hampshire Community Technical Institute and New Hampshire Community College. I also spent six weeks in an intensive language course in Nice, France through EF where I lived with a host family and took five hours of class in French about French (which is a good story in itself).
The summer I turned nineteen I entered the United States Merchant Marine Academy, I majored in Maritime Operations and Technology, with a concentration in Leadership and Ethics. My major was a mix of everything from navigation to knots to electrical engineering to welding and other fun things. I graduated with an Unlimited Third Mates License from the Coast Guard, and a Qualified Member of the Engineering Department endorsement along with a slew of other endorsements and a United States Navy Commission as an Ensign.