Thomson High School senior Heather Harden plans to attend The Citadel military college in Charleston, S.C., this fall with a major in biology, one of the college's toughest courses of study.
"I have wanted to be a veterinarian my whole life. I figured I had to do four years undergraduate first, and where else is better than a military school?" said the 17-year-old.
The Citadel enrolls 1,900 cadets in 19 degree programs and is consistently ranked among the top colleges in the region by U.S. News & World Report.
Heather, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Harden of Thomson, will join a small but elite group of women at the college that make up just 6 percent of the student body.
A traditional male college since its establishment in 1842, The Citadel began admitting women to the Corps of Cadets in 1996.
"I believe that females can do anything that males can. A very big motivation to completing my education at The Citadel is all the guys that have said I cannot make it. Well girls, I think it's about time we show them differently. Females are just as strong and just as capable as males, and don't let anyone tell you differently," Heather said.
Rose Marie McNeill is pleased with her granddaughter's decision.
"I'm delighted she is going. The Citadel is an extremely good school," she said.
Heather is looking forward to the quality education she will receive, but that isn't the only factor she considered.
"I wanted the discipline. Many colleges you can attend give you the academic aspects, and allow you many freedoms to get drunk and party it up on the weekends. I don't want that. I want an environment where I will have to give my best all the time," she said.
"And not only is it academically challenging, it is also physically challenging as well. I am an athlete, and I want the balance of academic and physical," said the veteran soccer player and co captain who is in her third year of that sport at THS.
In addition, Heather served as captain and co captain of the flag corp., and lettered in track as a freshman.
Other honors at THS include: Beta Club; Who's Who Among American High School Students; Who's Who Among American High School Students - Sports Edition; National Honor Society; published poet in Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans; voted Most Unique in senior superlatives:
In addition, she attended the 2004 Congressional Student Leadership Conference on Defense and Intelligence in Washington DC; the National Youth Leadership Forum 2004 in the field of medicine and St. George University Camp Medicine 2004 in Grenada, West Indies.
She has also been invited to the Congressional Youth Leadership Council which is designed to help outstanding young people achieve their full leadership potential.
Heather enjoys music, and plays several instruments. She is also a member of Thomson Presbyterian Church and is part of the Chancel Choir.
In preparation for college, she recently completed a Pre-Knob overnight visit to the school where she shadowed a cadet, attending classes, eating in the mess hall and sleeping in the barracks.
Heather feels ready to begin her college education June 6, following her May 21 graduation from THS where her diploma will feature both an academic and vocational seal.
She said her June start date will allow her to become adjusted to the schedule and fine tune her time management skills before the fall semester.
"In August I will be someone the others lean on for help, not the other way around," she said.