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The Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, or JROTC, teaches high school students character, education, leadership and diversity, and for one Cumberland Valley High School senior, it developed skills she already uses in leadership roles and skills she plans to keep using in the future.

“It’s seriously a passion for me because, being a student in high school, you really want to develop your citizenship skills and that’s the core goal,” said 18-year-old Kaleigh O’Connor. “It’s nice to be able to encourage your classmates to be at their best, and it’s a passion for me because my dream and ambition — which I will accomplish — is to be a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard.

“It’s really developed my leadership capabilities,” she added.

That attitude is one of the reasons it’s easy to believe O’Connor is a leader now, and probably always will be.

She was born in Cambridge, England, as one of three triplets — both of her siblings are boys — to a military family. She said that growing up with two brothers was “tough” at times, but it helped strengthen her to the point where she’s now known as “the mom” to her siblings for keeping them in check when it’s needed.

After bouncing around in the southern part of the United States for a time before finally landing in Mechanicsburg, one of the ways O’Connor found solace was through swimming.

When not swimming in school, O’Connor served as a lifeguard, and also as an assistant swim coach at the West Shore YMCA where she taught young children how to swim safely.

“That experience did teach me how to work with people younger than me, and I was also privileged to work with kids with autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder),” she said.

O’Connor has also been a team captain for CV’s swim team for three years now, and is looking forward to being a veteran leader since much of the team is made up of freshmen this year.

Her love of water also translates to the goals she hopes to accomplish post-high school. O’Connor has applied to Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, among others. Once in college, she said she hopes to study oceanography and/or ocean engineering.

“My love for oceanography and also environmental science has stemmed from me swimming and having a really caring personality,” O’Connor said. “I always wanted to interact with the environment. I went over and did an AP environmental science class last year, and did a water project testing the water quality and briefed officials from Hampden Township.

“I also went to a ladies STEM at the Naval Academy and did a lot of robotics and engineering type material, which made my desire for engineering and oceanography even stronger.”

For O’Connor, it’s all about being as involved as possible in everything she does. While she greatly credits the JROTC and the water-testing experiment as ventures that really shaped who she is and helped spur her toward her desired goals, there’s one project that stands out above all else.

O’Connor helped to organize two blood drives for the American Red Cross with her JROTC battalion.

“With that I had a lot of involvement regarding communicating with staff officers to get a publicity campaign moving, to reserve space in the gymnasium and equipment,” she said. “We had to speak to the blood bank about organizing the event and gathering volunteers to help run registration guides and help blood donors and register students, teachers and faculty for the event, get passes for the students to get out of class.”

During both blood drives, O’Connor said her battalion registered more than 100 people, and to this day, she said that is her biggest accomplishment.

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