Class of 2020, stories of hope
Graduate says Brookewood education helped her grow in her faith
May 31, 2020
Like most children who grow up in a military family, Gabrielle Nerstheimer moved frequently during the early part of her childhood, spending several years at a time living in faraway lands, such as Russia and The Netherlands, as well as postings closer to home at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. and the Military Academy at West Point in New York.
For the past four years, though, the high school senior has remained in one spot that will always hold a special place in her heart – Brookewood School in Kensington, Maryland.
Nerstheimer, a member of the Class of 2020 at the all-girls 1-12 Catholic school, was recently awarded a prestigious ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) college scholarship from the U.S. Army. She will attend the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Georgia, where she will major in strategic and security studies. Upon her college graduation, she will be commissioned an officer, following in the footsteps of her dad, Lt. Colonel Michael Nerstheimer, who served in the U.S. Army until his 2013 retirement from the military.
In her major, she plans to specialize in the study of Japanese, a strategic language, with the hope of serving as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO) in Japan or elsewhere in Asia. From the U.S. Army’s website, FAOs are best described as “the Army’s ‘Soldier Statesmen.’ They are regionally-focused experts in political-military operations. They possess a unique combination of strategic focus, regional expertise, with political, cultural, sociological, economic, and geographic awareness, and foreign language proficiency.”
Nerstheimer was recently admitted into the university’s Summer Language Institutes to begin an intensive online study of Japanese during the next two months.
She said she is also proud to follow the example set by her older brother, Christopher, a 2018 graduate of Brookewood’s brother school, The Avalon School in Wheaton, who joined the U.S. Marines after his high school graduation. He serves as a lance corporal and is stationed for training at Twentynine Palms in California.
As the school year winds down in an unanticipated way due to the COVID-19 pandemic, having completed classes online and her May 23 graduation ceremony postponed, Nerstheimer said it is a bittersweet ending to high school. She said she is definitely ready for the next big step in her life – starting college and preparing for a career in the military while serving in ROTC.
“I knew I didn’t want the (traditional college route.) I always wanted something different,” said Nerstheimer, adding that being in a military family made it an easier decision to pursue a college degree through the ROTC program. “I’ve always been interested in languages... Army ROTC puts me on a path of using languages (in a career).”
Nerstheimer, who turns 18 on July 1, said she will miss the small, tight-knit Brookewood School community, where she said her Catholic faith was nurtured and she received an excellent secondary education from dedicated teachers.
“At Brookewood, my faith grew. It prepared me for college and life after college. It was a big help in that aspect, “ said Nerstheimer, who lives in Montgomery Village with her parents, Michael and Kim, and her two younger brothers, William and Jacob, who are in seventh and eighth grade at The Avalon School. They are parishioners of St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg.
Her favorite subjects at Brookewood were English and religion, which she said, she and her classmates benefited greatly by having the same teachers – David Booz for religion and Cherie Walsh for English literature – in those subjects through all four years of high school. Religion class, she said, focused on Church teaching, and she also enjoyed the conversations among her classmates that would often ensue from those lessons.
Having lived in Russia, it was especially meaningful studying the great historical Russian novels – Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina – said Nerstheimer, adding that she has fond memories of Moscow as a youngster, even of the bitterly cold winters.
Two summers ago, Nerstheimer participated in the annual Avalon-Brookewood Schools’ weeklong Mustard Seed trip to Jamaica, in which about two dozen students from both schools serve in a community of young adults with developmental disabilities.
At Brookewood, she played varsity sports - volleyball in ninth and 10th grades; basketball in 11th grade; and soccer in her senior year. She also participated in the school plays throughout high school – first on stage crew and this year with a role in Cheaper by the Dozen.
“Gabby is like the keel of a boat – steady, well balanced, and dependable,” said Brookewood headmaster Richard McPherson. “Whether it is in calculus class, a mission trip to Jamaica, or on the soccer field, she does everything well and usually behind the scenes and without flash. She really is a great girl.”
In August, she will head to the University of North Georgia and officially begin her ROTC training.
Brookewood School’s motto Nolite Timere, (“Be Not Afraid”- words inspired by St. Pope John Paul II) is fitting for Nerstheimer, as she is undaunted about the challenges that lie ahead and will rely on her strong Catholic faith for college and beyond, especially when she’s far across the globe serving her country in the U.S. Army.
“It’s very important to me. No matter what happens in military life, what (military superiors) decide for me, my faith is the part of my life that will always be the constant,” she said.