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Manlius Pebble Hill senior becomes fourth member of family to attend U.S. Naval Academy

MARCELLUS — It isn’t just her familial connection that led Lisa Morocco to the U.S. Naval Academy. Instead, her desire to serve her country is her motivation.

“Military is a lifestyle and the kind of lifestyle I want to have,” she said.

Morocco’s parents, Peggy and Patrick, met at the Naval Academy in the 1980s. Her father went on to serve as a surface warfare engineering officer on the Antietam CG-54, while her mother was in oceanagraphics.

They have four children. The oldest, Mary Elizabeth Morocco, is presently attending the academy studying ocean engineering. The two younger siblings are attending Marcellus schools.

Like her sister before her, Lisa Morocco was nominated by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. John Katko after a rigorous application process.

“Our service academies train and mentor top tier officers who are committed to serving our country,” Gillibrand said in a press release. “These talented New Yorkers have shown honor, dedication and unique skill sets that will make them great assets to our nation’s service academies and armed forces. I am always honored to nominate courageous men and women with the opportunity to live their dreams and serve in our country’s armed forces.”

Yes, Morocco was introduced to the Naval Academy’s Arlington campus as a child, and it has always held a special place in her heart.

“I always wanted to go to the academy,” she said. “I went when I was little. It was awesome. The experience was so deep and meaningful.”

This isn’t a childhood dream but a lifelong quest. When it comes to the Navy, she said, having family in the service isn’t as much of an advantage as one might think, as you still have to make your own way and establish yourself as a more-than-competent leader capable of complex decision making.

With the Naval Academy’s focus on leadership, Morocco has dedicated herself to that same focus during her four high school years at Manlius Pebble Hill School.

She is now a senior and her leadership experience includes vice president of her junior class, Student Council representative since 2014, varsity soccer team captain, member of the Student-Faculty Judiciary Committee, captain of the math team and an officer of the Patriots Club.

She is the current president of the Patriots Club, which was established over some controversy by her sister Mary during her time at MPH. People initially misunderstood the purpose of the club, which is to give students and faculty an awareness of veterans and their needs, especially coming home from combat.

“MPH taught me many viewpoints,” Morocco said.

Morocco’s senior thesis is on an association that helps veterans reacclimate to civilian life. It is called Clear Path For Veterans, and she is studying its service dogs and veterans program called Dogs2Vets.

Her research includes post-traumatic stress disorder. She has found this is more of a universal condition in that most people will have an experience with trauma in their lives, not only combat veterans.

“What is it about a dog that can totally turn around a person’s life?” she said. “When soldiers or sailors come back, they don’t have someone watching their back.”

She said students haven’t shown that much of an interest in the Patriots Club, but she has an upcoming event where she is taking the MPH Select Choir to Clear Path. She feels certain that once the students are able to engage and see for themselves, they will gain tremendous insight into the challenges veterans face returning home.

Morocco excels in math and science but is also drawn to the humanities, especially language. She flexes this interest in her community service. Beyond Clear Path, she has volunteered at the Syracuse VA Medical Center, Baltimore Woods Nature Center and her church.

Somehow, she has always found time to engage in sports, band, chorus and work at several seasonal jobs — Beak & Skiff, Tim’s Pumpkin Patch, The Crooked Barn Community Supported Agriculture, The Chocolate Pizza Co. and even as a youth soccer referee.

Her sports are varsity lacrosse and soccer and competitive horseback riding and jumping. She is a skier and also a certified lifeguard and scuba diver. And, she knows how to fire a gun, as she hunts on her grandmother’s land.

“I got a bigger buck than my dad this year,” she said.

On June 29, Morocco will fall in at the Naval Academy for her plebe summer. She intends to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering. And, if she can measure up to the physical requirements, she would like to be a pilot, which would require continued study before the five-year commitment each student fulfills upon graduation.

Her father said his class was 1,400 with 1,000 eventual graduates. The Navy knows that a percentage of students will wash out of the program and is always working to lower this number.

To that end, Morocco attended two different introductory programs at the Academy — Summer STEM and Summer Seminar. During the seminar, one lives as a midshipman. It is similar but not as grueling as Plebe Summer. There are mini sea trials, which is essentially a day of intense exercise.

“I’ve never been as physically challenged as I was during that academy experience,” she said. “But for some reason, I wanted more.”

She loved the experience more than ever. Her sister calls it “the after fun effect,” which means an experience is rough while you are doing it but when you look back, it is quite glorious.

People ask Morocco if she is afraid. She said she is going into the experience with her eyes wide open, knowing there is a big challenge ahead. She knows the military isn’t for everyone and that you can still live your life with purpose without joining the military. Yet, she remains steady in her convictions.

“I’m really excited to be with a group of people who have the same mission as me and care about the same things and are just as motivated and just as determined,” Morocco said.