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A challenging yet rewarding life: Naval ROTC reflections, Part One

Courtesy Karen Ku
Courtesy Karen Ku

This piece is narrated by Abigail McRea ‘23, with contributions by Wyatt Rogers ‘26, Megan Ogawa ‘23, William Suringa ‘26, and Lea Casano-Boris ‘25.

The Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (NROTC) at Princeton is a small community, but it is one that has shaped the lives and experiences of 12 students on campus unlike any other. Though our Midshipmen represent a variety of backgrounds, majors, and interests, we’re all — as cliché as it might sound — united by a common understanding of each other, our role models, and who we aspire to be in our near future. Moreover, though NROTC sometimes looks like exhausting weeks and sleepless nights, one thing that keeps us going is a shared appreciation for a challenging but rewarding way of life. 


In the following two-part essay, a few Midshipmen from the campus community — Wyatt Rogers ’26, Megan Ogawa ’23, William Suringa ’26, Lea Casano-Boris ’25, and me (Abigail McRea ’23) — elaborate on our NROTC experience: what has inspired us to serve, what keeps us going, and what our future aspirations are. This first part features Rogers’ and Ogawa’s experiences. 

Wyatt Rogers’ story:

I joined NROTC this fall as an incoming first-year. NROTC is a big time commitment, and it can be a bit of a challenge waking up at 4:30 a.m. to get to training on Monday mornings, but it has been a defining part of my Princeton experience thus far. I have met a ton of new people, both inside and outside Princeton, whom I never would have had the chance to know if I weren’t in the unit. As a NROTC unit, we got to meet General Cavoli, who is the Commander of the U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. It was a fascinating experience hearing him talk about the future of what the U.S. military may look like.

To be honest, I am not sure what motivated me to join NROTC. I decided to join when high school was coming to an end, and I started to wonder what I wanted to do with my life. Part of me wanted to shape my Princeton experience to prepare for a career in finance or consulting, but I decided to try something different — I wanted to try a unique career that would keep me active. The Navy has jobs that bring you across the world and prevent you from being stuck at a desk all day. I also had the desire to serve and protect my country. I grew up in Japan, a country which — despite having a history of intense conflict with the United States — is one of our closest allies. While the U.S. military is not perfect, it helped change Japan from an imperialist empire to a successful representative democracy. I want to help maintain this relationship between the United States and Japan.

I have had an amazing time in NROTC so far, and I look forward to continuing in the program throughout my four years at Princeton. While it is not always easy, it is a fulfilling experience with amazing opportunities to meet new people and try new things. 



In the NROTC program, students spend four years learning how to be a Navy or Marine Corps officer. The program takes place at Rutgers University and involves tri-weekly workouts; a class learning about tactics, history, or ethics; active peer leadership; and mentorship from active-duty service members. As Wyatt described, many Midshipmen join NROTC in order to add a layer of challenge to their lives. Their future career aspirations, during and post-military, are inspired by and intertwined with this love for a challenging way of life. In the following reflection, Midshipmen Ogawa elaborates on this, touching on her extracurricular activities, busy schedule, and personal development. 

Megan Ogawa’s story:

Aside from waking up at 4:30 a.m. for physical training, maintaining my uniform, and studying Naval Science, all while balancing Princeton academics, my time in ROTC has also been balanced by hours on the track as a varsity athlete and responsibilities as a Residential College Advisor (RCA). All of these things together have supported my development not only as a future Naval Officer, but also as a person. Being an RCA in particular has provided me the opportunity to be responsible for the care of other people and exposed me to an arsenal of resources that empower students of all backgrounds to find their own success.

As Company Commander — a position of high authority within the student command structure — the skills I acquired as an RCA have carried over to a military environment: NROTC has allowed me to practice task-oriented and peer-to-peer leadership that has helped me develop my own confidence and time management skills. Looking back on all the different paths I could have taken, NROTC at Princeton has definitely been a unique one.

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As a fairly new program with only 12 members, NROTC at Princeton has allowed me to experience the very steep contrast between a regimental military life and a civilian college life, especially during my underclass years. This unique separation has given me the best of both worlds and helped me make meaningful connections with military advisors, as well as peer leaders and like-minded students at Princeton.

On the more personal side of things, all of this would not have been possible without the moral support and friendship that has come from the varsity track team, NROTC, and the residential college. It goes without saying that my time as a Princeton Midshipman, athlete, RCA, and student has been very formative experiences, but it was definitely not always easy. I cannot understate how much I can attribute the positive friendships, mentors, coaches, and peers to how I have been able to get this far.

Wyatt Rogers ’26 grew up in Tokyo, Japan, and is a prospective SPIA major.

Megan Ogawa ’23 is a BSE Computer Science major at Princeton.

Abigail McRea ’23 is an Electrical Engineering major from San Diego, California.

Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at prospect[at]