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Almost every hand was raised by our students, not just once–but twice–during our Veteran’s Day assembly on Thursday, November 11. The first time, our guest speaker, USN Captain Jessica O’Brien asked Saint Mary’s Catholic School students to raise their hand if they had a friend or family member who has served in the U.S. military. The second time was after she finished her short presentation and asked if anyone wanted to ask her any questions.

It’s not everyday that you get to ask questions to a person who drives Naval ships for a living! Currently based in Washington D.C., Captain O’Brien serves under the Chief of Naval Operations. During her visit she shared that while she loves being close to her family in Virginia (she is the aunt of SMCS student Julia J.), she is looking forward to her next posting in Seal Beach, California where she will be the base’s Commanding Officer.

After explaining the history of Veteran’s Day, Captain O’Brien’s talk focused on two main themes: Heeding God’s call to serve and embracing the opportunity to fail. Yes, this self-described over-achiever invited her audience to stretch themselves by not staying in their comfort zone. In fact, she shared that one of her favorite bits of professional advice was “to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Fitting perhaps for someone who has spent the majority of her adult life on ships.

During the Q&A session, Captain O’Brien candidly illustrated how her faith, instilled in her as a Catholic School Girl (and Girl Scout!) from a small town in Mississippi, along with her will to succeed led her down a path to the US Naval Academy. While there she majored in Oceanography before earning her Masters Degree in Military Studies from the US Marine War College in Quantico, Virginia. Initially, she had wanted to be a pilot, but imperfect eyesight meant she had to consider something else. Clearly God had a plan that would eventually lead her to Captain ships and experience opportunities that the once small-town girl could never have dreamed possible.

Were there storms to weather? Yes, both literally and figuratively. She laughed when she said, “Any Naval officer who claims they have never been seasick is not being 100% truthful.” And then matter-of-factly acknowledged that she too had experienced rough seas, taken momentarily ill and then returned to her duties driving the boat. “On a ship,” she shared, “sometimes the sea is so rough they can’t even serve normal meals so we have to eat grilled cheese sandwiches. But I like grilled cheese so it’s not so bad,” she added with a grin.

With every answer to the multitude of queries, Captain O’Brien remained on theme reminding students that everyone has something to contribute if they stay focused on serving others.

Our middle school religion teacher, Mrs. Slifka, might call the Captain’s message a “God wink” given that this week is also National Vocation Awareness Week, celebrated November 7-13, 2021, by the Catholic Church in the United States. Indeed Captain O’Brien ended her speech by encouraging her young audience to figure out how to weave service into their future whether it be by choosing a career in the military, studying medicine, becoming a teacher or considering religious life.

Thank you, Captain O’Brien, for visiting Saint Mary’s Catholic School. We are so grateful to benefit from your time, service and wisdom!

To view her full presentation on YouTube, please click on the video below. Special thanks to Mrs. Klein for organizing today’s program and to Mrs. Oleson for recording the video.

US Navy Captain Jessica O’Brien presented to St. Mary’s Catholic School students in grades 2 through 8 after school mass on Thursday, November 11, 2021.