For an 18-year-old, moving away from home can seem like a daunting prospect. Some go to college and are surrounded by friends. Some enter the workforce. But what about those that decide to take a different route? Instead, some are away from family and friends, have little contact with anyone from back home and are forced to grow up fast.
That is all true for Camdenton graduate Tabatha Hanlon.
Hanlon finished all her high school credits at semester which enabled her to join the Marine Corps in February and finish boot camp in time to walk with her graduating class.
"It was the best decision I ever made," Hanlon told students at Horizons. "Going to boot camp changed me."
Hanlon told her classmates that she was not sure why she joined; she simply wanted to do something with her life.
"Part of me wanted to join the FBI when I got older, but I knew my grades were not good enough to just go to college," Hanlon recalled. "So I decided to join a part of the military. I looked into different branches, but the Marines stood out to me."
Hanlon spent 13 weeks at boot camp and could only communicate with her parents by letters. She was hospitalized for a few days and was able to make a quick phone call. On Friday, May 10, Hanlon graduated from boot camp as Private Hanlon. She not only gained a new title, but a new found respect for those around her.
"I've learned to respect the little things in life like my own privacy," she said. "Boot camp teaches you confidence--confidence that you didn't know you had."
When Hanlon decided to join the Marines, she had one simple dream — to graduate in her uniform instead of a cap and gown.
She knew that dream was a long shot since no one in the history of Camdenton R-III schools has ever been allowed to graduate in military uniform. She persisted anyway. She wrote her parents a letter while away at boot camp explaining why wearing her uniform was so important to her.
"I feel like I have the right to wear my uniform to graduation because I am going to be serving the country and I never ask for anything at all. I'm just asking to wear my uniform," Hanlon said. "That uniform is a part of me now. I'm not just a civilian anymore. I am a part of the military. The uniform is me and I feel like I'm disrespecting the uniform if I put a cap and gown over it. I feel like I'm disrepecting myself if I don't wear my uniform to graduation."
After hearing from Hanlon and carefully considering her request, the district made a decision.
Page 2 of 2 - "She wanted to represent her accomplishment. Brett Thompson, high school principal, and I considered her request, did some calling to some neighboring schools and spoke to our board. We do want to help honor the service that the military offers our country," Superintendent Tim Hadfield said.
Not only does the Camdenton R-III district want to honor Hanlon, but they want to offer the same opportunity to other active members of the military that are a part of the graduating class.
"She and other students are going to serve our country. In my opinion, there is nothing more honorable than that," Thompson said.
Thompson asked students to provide documentation if they are listed or are active members of the military. The Class of 2013 currently has 24 active service members. Each service member will also receive a red honor chord at the awards assembly which they can wear with their cap and gown if they choose to do so.
Hanlon is currently on leave. Next stop is Marine combat training then on to Fort Leonard Wood.