CLIFTON PARK — Shenendehowa High School senior Mathilda Tristan was looking for something different as a youngster, but she never expected her path to lead her to new heights and an appointment to the United States Naval Academy.
Tristan joined the Captain Luke C. Wullenwaber Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol in Ballston Lake when she was 12 years old and now, at age 18, she attained the rank of Cadet Major.
“I fell in love with the way that they did things, how it was very orderly, and you could see that there was a clear chain of command,” Tristan said in a recent phone interview. “All of that structure was very appealing to me.”
Her success in the Civil Air Patrol led to her desire to become a part of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“I’m always looking for an incredible opportunity and you can’t get any better than the Naval Academy,” the Clifton Park resident said. “They have the academics, the training, everything that I was looking for.
“You have a guaranteed five years of a job afterwards and I think that’s great.”
She received her Naval Academy nomination from U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam. During her Civil Air Patrol career, Tonko awarded Tristan with the Air Force Sergeants Association Award Unit Cadet NCO of the Year.
Tristan accepted her appointment on Christmas Day last year, choosing the Navy over her acceptances to RIT and Purdue.
“For the most part, it was up to me,” Tristan said. “[My parents] were actually leaning more toward the Naval Academy because they wouldn’t have to pay for college. They also liked the experience it gives.”
Last summer, she served as a squadron leader of 18 cadets during a summer encampment and last year she was one of six cadets accepted into the Powered Flight Academy where she completed her first solo flight.
“I wasn’t really interested in flying before then, but I was interested in trying it out and seeing what it was like,” Tristan said. “It was something I really, really liked.
“I’m not a thrill-seeker; just the experience of flying is really interesting.”
Tristan will enter the Naval Academy as an aerospace engineering major.
“I will graduate as an officer from the U.S. Naval Academy,” Tristan said. “The plan is to go into flight training, become a pilot, stay on as long as I need to, to make a name for myself in the Navy.”
Contact Stan Hudy at [email protected] or @StanHudy on Twitter.