Senior project turns into Navy choice for Wheeler High student
North Stonington - Carter Dole has always thought about joining the military, and Navy Senior Chief Mike Shea has heard that line before.
So when Dole, a 19-year-old senior at Wheeler High School, approached Shea about doing his senior project on life aboard a submarine, with the intention of one day living it, Shea was skeptical.
"At first he said, you know, 'I'm kinda interested,' but I hear that all the time. I hear that from a lot of kids," Shea said.
They dig in at first, he said, then back out, he said. But Dole was different.
"Carter knows exactly what he wants," Shea said. "He works hard, understands tradition, understands the service, understands what it's gonna take, the sacrifice that it's gonna take.
"That was a breath of fresh air," he said.
Dole's project was simple, completed over the course of about 16 hours last summer in the lead-up to his final year in high school: Interview officers and enlisted personnel on the sub base and write 20 pages of journals about it.
But as with Shea, Allison Reyes - a senior project coordinator and senior class adviser at Wheeler - watched Dole forge a unique path.
The majority of seniors Reyes works with choose a hobby to showcase in the final project, something tangible. Some perhaps toy with the idea of a career like teaching or physical therapy before backpedaling, knowing by the end of the assignment at least one job they'll never pursue.
Dole used it as an opportunity to decide on his future.
"He is so excited about his future now," Reyes said. "Before that, he really wasn't sure."
Dole's project began with a classmate whose father, a Navy admiral, set him up with Shea as his mentor.
The interest wasn't on a whim. Dole spent his childhood watching History Channel war documentaries, harboring no video-game delusions of military service.
And Dole's grandfather, who served in the Navy in the 1960s, served as part of his inspiration - and his encouragement, offering to help get his grandson into the Naval Academy.
But Dole said he wasn't interested in coming in as an officer with no military experience. Nor did he see the appeal in going through an ROTC program, which would also put him in a leadership role without working his way up the ranks.
"I decided to just enlist," he said.
On Jan. 7, he did.
"I want to gain experience in every sense of the word," Dole said, in order to earn respect - even if that means doing the dirty work of cleaning a bathroom used by 40 other sailors.
Reyes sees a similar readiness to pitch in at Wheeler, where Dole is always willing to help at any school event, always quick with a friendly, sincere smile.
"He will always look you in the eye. He will always ask how your day is," she said.
Dole was an average student for much of his high school career - "lazy" by his own description. He never failed a class; he also never took an AP or honors course.
His GPA ticked markedly upward after that summer on the sub base. He had found, finally, a sense of purpose.
Dole will ship out for Chicago in August to complete two months of basic training. Then he'll be studying nuclear engineering in Maryland. In all, Dole has an eight-year commitment to the Navy, six of them on active duty, before he's given the option to re-enlist.
Dole said he'd considered college before, but never narrowed down a list of names or places, even possible majors. He had no idea what he wanted to do, he said, or where he wanted to go.
"All my friends are going to college," he said. "I want to do something different."
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