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Higganum Resident Audrey Gaynier Graduates from USCGA

By Kathy Brown.

Divestiture of Cadet Symbols

Audrey Gaynier, 22, of Higganum, graduated from the US Coast Guard Academy in New London on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, receiving her diploma from the Superintendent of the US Coast Guard Academy Rear Admiral Rendon and her commission from President Trump, in front of family and friends.

Gaynier receiving diploma from Rear Admiral Rendon

During the ceremony, John Kelly, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told the cadets, “Forty two million Americans have taken this oath. We are the only country who take an oath to an idea, to uphold the Constitution.” Other countries take an oath to a political party, or a country, or a sovereign.

Cadet First Class Christopher Popiel, the Class of 2017 Distinguished Graduate, gave the Commencement Address to his 194 fellow cadets graduating that day. In his speech he called out a few cadets by name and how they “had the courage to express themselves creatively.” He said “Audrey Gaynier used her prodigious drawing and painting abilities to create masterpieces for the cadet art show.” Among the 195 graduates in the Class of 2017 were six international students.

Ensign Gaynier receiving commission from President Trump

President Trump told the cadets, “America has families just like yours, and you will keep them all safe.” He remarked about the 24,000 hours of community service that the Class of 2017 gave to the community, including serving at a soup kitchen every weekday of the year, and how this class was “a truly amazing group of cadets.” He waxed political for a few minutes, then continued with, “In the Coast Guard, you don’t run from danger; you chase it.” And he ended with, “I thank you, I salute you, and I congratulate you.”

Unlike the other service academies, the US Coast Guard Academy does not require a congressional nomination; admission to the Coast Guard Academy is based on merit only. It is highly selective, and many cadets have to go to a military prep academy prior to entering the USCGA, including Audrey. Audrey attended Marion Military Institute prior to acceptance in the USCGA. You can read more about that story here.

Audrey grew up in Higganum, attending Burr Elementary School and Haddam Killingworth Middle School, before attending Mercy High School. “My favorite memory growing up in Higganum is by far, driving up to the center of town on a hot summer day to get a foot long hot dog with relish from Higgies,” Audrey said.  “My family spends the majority of the summer on the Connecticut River but getting to sit on those picnic benches at Higgies was a summer staple.”

“When I was a sophomore at Mercy High School, I knew I wanted to become a Coast Guard officer,” said Audrey. “My father was in the Navy for nine years, so the military lifestyle was present in my upbringing. HOBY was an amazing experience. Although it was only a few days long, I learned so much about myself. HOBY showed me that being a leader doesn’t mean you have to be in a leadership position; you just need to have passion to meet a goal and others along with you trying to reach that common goal.” Her grandfather also served in the Army, so she is the third generation to serve her country in her family.

She applied to the Coast Guard while at Mercy. “Being rejected from the Coast Guard Academy was the most disappointing day of my life,” Audrey told us. “I remember my mom was away in New York City when I received my letter. We cried on the phone together. The Coast Guard Academy was the only school I applied to out of high school, so I was lost when I realized I wasn’t going. My dad was home at the time and he helped me figure out my next step.” She called the Academy the next day, and they encouraged her to apply to the Marion Military Institute and re-apply to the Academy the next year. “Being rejected started off as the worst thing the Academy could do to me, but looking back now, it truly was the best thing the Academy could have done for me.”

Mercy Graduation – Audrey with her parents, Brian and Helen

Audrey was accepted to MMI a few weeks later and left for Alabama the following August. “Going to prep school allowed me to better my grades while taking almost identical courses that I would have been taking as a freshman at the Academy. It also allowed me a year to mature and figure myself out.” She added, “In reality, I needed the prep year.”

Her Girl Scout leader for many years, Betsy Kubacka said “I would definitely call her a determined girl!” She added that she was very proud of Audrey. Linda Kauffman, then nurse at Burr Elementary School said, “Even in elementary school Audrey was a leader and had a spark of determination that was not matched among her peers. She was smart, independent, and always positive. I don’t think she even realized she was leader.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed working with Audrey as her school counselor,” said Carolyn Garofoli, Audrey’s Guidance Counselor, who is now retired from Mercy High School.  “Truly an ambitious, determined, compassionate, delightful student with outstanding leadership qualities.” In her original recommendation letter included with her Coast Guard application, Ms. Garofoli wrote, “She is a delicate blend of scholar and athlete, leader and server with a dash of creative inspiration that makes everything she does rise above the ordinary. She is sensitive and compassionate with a unique capacity to create harmony with others even in times of stress and turmoil.”
While at Mercy High School, Audrey was very busy. She worked on the CT River Pumpout Boat Crew, was a launch pilot and dock hand at Brewers Marina, and was a lifeguard and swim instructor for the HK Recreation Department. She also completed over 500 hours of Community Service for the Haddam Junior Women’s Club, Camp Claire, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Killingworth Elementary School, and St. Lawrence Church. While at Mercy High School, she was on the Robotics Team, the Diversity Dream Team, Model United Nations, and participated in the Musicals. She was inducted into the National Honor Society in November 2010. She was selected to be the Hugh O’Brian Leadership Conference Delegate in May 2010. She also played Field Hockey and Lacrosse for Haddam Killingworth Middle School in 8th grade, as well as all four years at Mercy High School.

Ensign Gaynier taking oath of office

HaddamNow asked her about her Coast Guard Academy experience. “My favorite experience at the Academy was when I held a leadership position as a 2/c cadet,” Audrey told us.  “I was the Hotel Company Guidon for the Fall 2015 semester. I was the lead 2/c in my company, in charge of the military discipline, training and development of the 4c (freshman) cadets in Hotel. I learned so much about myself and my leadership style that semester. But the most rewarding thing about being the guidon for Hotel Company is getting to see those Hotel 4/c now, about to be 2/c cadre for the class of 2021. It was an honor leading all of them and now it’s their turn to lead their incoming 4/c.”

 When asked how the Academy was alike and how it was different from a regular four-year college, Audrey answered, “The Coast Guard Academy is like normal college because you take four years of classes and receive a Bachelors of Science upon graduation. But it is unlike normal college because academics is just one of three obligations: academics, military, and athletics. Cadets at USCGA are required to maintain a 2.0 accumulated GPA as well as a 2.0 major GPA. We are also required to meet all military obligations to include, division work within our respective companies, along with drilling and attending lecture series. Cadets must also participate in two out of the three sport seasons and pass a fitness test every semester. We have a lot more on our plates than at normal college, so time management is crucial to handling it all.”

Last formal parade as a cadet (Audrey is 2nd from left)

Audrey will report for duty as the Student Engineer on board the US Coast Guard Cutter Decisive out of Pascagoula, Mississippi in June.
Graduation pictures by K. Brown.
Parade photo by Paul Duddy.
Mercy High School graduation photo by Pauline Murphy.

5 Responses to Higganum Resident Audrey Gaynier Graduates from USCGA

  1. Ed Munster

    May 21, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Congratulations Audrey! Thank you for your service to our country!

  2. Jody Lynn

    May 21, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Congrats Audrey! hard work pays off!

  3. Joan Kimberly Pontbriand

    May 21, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Congrats Higganum is Proud of You!

  4. Kevin Francis

    May 22, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    It just goes to show that the difference between who you are and what you want to be is a matter of how hard you’re willing to work. Congratulations on working and achieving your goal

  5. Bob Siegrist

    May 24, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you for your service to our country, Ms. Gaynier. Congratulations!