A Journey Fraught with Rough Passages
All is now shipshape for Kathryn Perry.
Today, she is a model student with a portfolio of achievements. She looks forward to receiving her bachelor’s degree ― with a major in Marine Transportation and a minor in Maritime Administration ― in the May commencement ceremony. Additionally, on the day prior to her graduation she’ll receive a commission in the U.S. Navy Merchant Marine Reserve.
However, Perry had to navigate a course beyond her wildest imaginings to arrive at her place in the 2011 graduating class.
A person of considerable depth, on the surface she is perpetually calm and composed despite her journey that was fraught with rough passages.
During her high school years in Anderson, Ind., college was not a path she considered. At that time, she could not settle on a direction for her life, and her strongest desire was to drop out of school. She says softball was the only activity that kept her going to class.
Then one day, coming completely out of the blue, the call of the ocean sounded all the way to landlocked Indiana and blasted directly into Perry’s home ― all courtesy of the Discovery Channel. Since she had no sea-legs at the time it knocked her off her feet, but once she was upright again, she discovered an instantaneous and an overwhelming desire to join an organization she previously knew nothing about —the U.S. Coast Guard.
Perry wanted to enlist immediately in her junior year, but opted for the delayed entry program in order to finish high school.
In 1998 at the age of 18, she shipped out as a seaman on the USCGC Polar Star (a heavy icebreaker) operating out of Seattle.
Although she advanced to the ranks of electrician’s mate 3rd class petty officer in the Coast Guard, Perry discovered again she was adrift with no ultimate destination. She explains that she wanted something more and didn’t know how to define the feeling at the time.
She tried personal fitness training, bar tending, construction work and electrical work. Although none of these jobs felt permanent, a connection she made through one of them would eventually lead her back to the sea.
A construction supervisor in Portland, Maine – a graduate of the Maine Maritime
Academy —was the first to recognize her as an excellent prospect for a maritime academy. At his suggestion she took a preliminary look at the academies in Maine and Massachusetts, but at the time she was skeptical about her aptitude for college.
While she thought about her options, she decided to make a course correction and return to something familiar. That’s when she became an able-bodied seaman on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Thomas Jefferson.
While her ship was on a surveying mission in the Gulf of Mexico, her commanding officer ― Capt. Emily B. Christman, who recognized Perry’s potential – ordered her to go ashore in Galveston and visit the Texas Maritime Academy.
The positive criticism and encouragement from her captain, XO and chief boatswain ultimately were the deciding factors in leading Perry to recognize she needed an educational component to complement her desire for a sea-faring career.
After visiting the academy, she submitted applications to both the TMA and the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
In May 2006, she left NOAA and enrolled in a community college in Seattle to get some higher education experience, because she says, “I still didn’t have a clue about college.”
After one semester, she found that she did have an aptitude for college, and she now knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what she wanted. And, that was to attend the Texas Maritime Academy.
In early 2007, without waiting to hear whether or not she was accepted, Perry gathered up everything and headed for Galveston.
“I don’t know exactly who let me in, but I’m glad they did,” she said.
Well, she’s glad today, but her first semester was a different story.
Adapting to life as an older student in the cadet battalion proved to be a difficult adjustment.
“Twice I was ready to give up and quit, but each time Capt. Jack (Smith), who recognized my potential here before I did —and undertook the role of acting as my advisor — convinced me to stay,” she admits. “Capt. Jack is a very difficult man when it comes to trying to get him to take ‘no’ for an answer.
For his part, Smith said, “Since I deal with students on a daily basis, I can recognize those who possess the intelligence and skills to develop into leaders. So, when I met Kathryn Perry, her potential was very evident to me.
“I admit I pushed her onto the path to become the commander of the cadet battalion because, despite her initial lack of self confidence, I recognized her natural leadership abilities, and I could see that the cadets already were following her,” Smith said.
“I knew she could do an excellent job in that post ― and she didn’t disappoint me,” he said.
In addition to Smith, Perry also cites Dr. Donna Lang, associate vice president for Enrollment Management and Outreach; Col. Richard Malahan, commandant of the cadet battalion; and Sgt. First Class Claude Davidson, assistant commandant, as mentors who have inspired her.
“We are fortunate to work with bright talented students on a daily basis. Kathryn is exceptional. I think her life experiences added value to her maturity and leadership skills,” Lang said.
“After getting to know the faculty and administrators, getting acquainted with my fellow students and knowing for sure that I’m a Sea Aggie – I began to realize I could achieve so much more,” she explained."At TAMUG, I’ve determined exactly who I am, and I’ve developed a keen understanding of all I’m capable of accomplishing.”
And, her accomplishments are numerous. At TAMUG, she’s evolved into a model student
with a 3.1 grade point average and a portfolio of achievements that include serving as commander of the Texas Maritime Academy Cadet Battalion.
Additionally, in November 2010, she served as the student chairperson for the 4th annual, national Women on the Water conference held on the university campus.
“Those who have helped me step up for leadership roles and encouraged me along the way are people I will be forever grateful to and keep with me all my life,” she said.
After graduation, Perry wants to sail and eventually work her way up to becoming a chief mate or captain. Even further down the road, she expects to work shore side for a major company in the maritime industry.
One additional change coming in May is Perry’s impending marriage to Don Boyle Jr. from TAMUG’s class of 2008.