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Midshipman Follows Family Naval Tradition

By Irin Carmon, Crimson Staff Writer

When it comes to e-mail writing, she favors exclamation points and capital letters. For fashion, it’s white Lacoste and pearl earrings. And in politics, she leans right.

Vivacious and emphatic, Stephanie H. Hendricks ’05 is the picture of a well-adjusted, unabashedly preppy Harvard student.

Yet for the past four years, she’s risen at dawn to trek to MIT for Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) exercises. This fall, Hendricks will trade in the Lacoste for a uniform as she trains to be a Naval intelligence officer in Virginia.

“It’s fun to keep everyone on their toes,” says Hendricks cheerfully.

Her friends remember the initial surprise. “She used to wear bows in her hair. She has Lilly Pulitzer sheets. But she’s also a badass ROTC girl,” says longtime friend and roommate Hilary S. Thorndike ’05.

Hendricks seems altogether too chipper to be the brunt of controversy, but her chief extracurricular has seen its share of it on Harvard’s campus.

Originally booted out during Vietnam and kept out by concerns about discrimination against gays and lesbians, the ROTC program has returned to the headlines with the war in Iraq. At Harvard, University President Lawrence H. Summers has strongly supported the program.

Hendricks is something of a rare breed: an Ivy League-educated Midshipman First Class with firm family roots in both the Northeast and the Navy. The numerous members of both sides of her family who have served in the Navy include her grandfather, as well as two great-uncles who graduated from Harvard. All three served in World War II.

“I’m still representing a small, dying population!” she says, adding that the idea of tradition has become increasingly important to her.

Growing up in suburban Pennsylvania, she recalls her father ceaselessly playing in the car the soundtrack to “Victory at Sea,” a television series about the Navy in World War II. The elder Hendricks, whom his daughter calls “one of my best friends,” was forced to give up his dream of enlisting in the Navy during the Vietnam War because of a bad heart.

“I think my father brainwashed me as a child,” Stephanie Hendricks giggles.

That Hendricks is a recruited player on the varsity squash team may have also been destiny: her parents’ first date was a squash match.

Just before starting college, Hendricks would sometimes get nervous about her impending commitment to the armed services. She says her father would remind her that this was a great time to be in the military.

“He said, ‘everything’s pretty calm—there’s no war going on.’”

Recalling his words that summer of 2001, she pauses. “That would be August.”

Days into Hendricks’ first year at Harvard, the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States changed everything.

Even as the country launched into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hendricks says her dedication to the Navy only deepened.

“September 11 reminded us that there’s a reason for doing this, a real-life, current connection. And it reminded people that the military is important,” she says.

As if squash and ROTC weren’t draining enough, Hendricks also teaches a spinning class at the Beacon Hill Athletic Club in Boston.

“She definitely has more energy than anyone I’ve ever known,” says her friend Carrie S. Baizer ’05. “To this day I still find it shocking and amazing, because she does so many other things…she has the ability to just tackle anything.”

And when it comes to socializing, she’s often cited as a motivator. Nellwyn A. Thomas ’05 says that for Senior Week, Hendricks founded a tongue-in-cheek “sorority” called Kappa Kappa Steffers, featuring a southern belle ball in her common room. It was only one in a string of whimsical ideas.

“The day I finished all my papers, Stephanie and I went to get pedicures and she snuck in a bottle of champagne,” recalls Thomas. “There we were, sitting in the pedicure chairs, drinking champagne from cups in a brown paper bag.”

The party girl credentials aren’t just compatible with Hendricks’ fierce work ethic—they’re more like an extension of it.

While many of her friends were putting in hours at investment banks and consulting firms last summer, Hendricks was flying jets in Jacksonville, Fla. She has since moved from the aviation track to a four-year post-college commitment to Naval intelligence.

She says she’s mentally prepared for the prospect of dying in combat. “Like my father says, everyone’s going to die. You can’t live your life in fear, afraid to die—you have to actually go out and live life,” she says. “I’ve taken that to heart. It’s true. That’s how terrorists win: they instill fear in people. So if you’re not afraid, they’re not winning.”

—Staff writer Irin Carmon can be reached at carmon@fas.harvard.edu.

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