Vineyarder wins prestigious scholarship

Air Force cadet will soar to Oxford after undergraduate studies.

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Samantha Potter stands with her parents, Robert and Deborah, during parents weekend at the academy. Courtesy — Samantha Potter.

At a young age, Samantha Potter knew she wanted to join the military. As a tennis champion and valedictorian of the MVRHS class of 2015, she had a wide range of options after walking across the stage at the Tabernacle. But Potter knew she wanted to serve her country, help people on a global scale, and uncover strengths and abilities she never knew were attainable. With a little encouragement from her mother (who served in the Marines), Potter said she ended up choosing the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., as her next step.

Potter was appointed to the Air Force Academy after receiving the nomination of U.S. Rep. Bill Keating.

After receiving her appointment, Potter was “torn” between her love for tennis and her love for extracurricular clubs. In particular, she said, debate was always a passion of hers. After joining the debate team at the academy, Potter excelled in state and national competitions. She placed first out of 40 students at the five-state regional National Parliamentary Debate Association Tournament.

On Jan. 8, Potter will receive the annual Holaday Scholarship, which enables a top-ranking cadet in the academy to attend a graduate program at Exeter College at England’s Oxford University for two years.

Since its creation in 2003, 16 cadets have been awarded the scholarship, and with a 3.96 GPA and dual majors in English and legal studies, Potter certainly fits the bill.

Holaday graduated with honors from the Air Force Academy in 1965, and was a Rhodes Scholar. He holds a master’s degree from Oxford University, a J.D. from the George Washington School of Law, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of North Dakota. According to the Dakota Foundation website, Holaday established the award to provide the opportunity for a cadet who “competes for, but does not receive, a Rhodes scholarship, to do his or her graduate work at Oxford.”

Potter said even though she did not receive the Rhodes scholarship, she still feels “so fortunate” for the opportunity to further her education and travel abroad to a prestigious school. “It’s kind of like I got a second chance with this scholarship. I am very excited to continue my schooling,” she said.

With her English and legal studies majors, Potter said she appreciates being able to balance her communication skills with the technical skills she has developed through her core curriculum classes. “The academy is unique in that everyone graduates with a bachelor’s of science,” she said. “So it’s nice having that balance of being able to talk as a scientist, but also being able to debate and convey my ideas.”

One element of the academy that Potter said has proved invaluable to her has little to do with academics.

Cadets are required to complete a number of grueling physical challenges, including a “water survival” training program that involves jumping off a 10-meter platform into a pool.

“I never thought I could do something like that,” Potter said. “But that is one thing that you learn while you are at the academy — you are a lot stronger than you think you are. Having that self-awareness and that confidence is so incredible; I don’t think you can learn that anywhere else.”

Potter said that looking back on the experience, she is glad she took the plunge because it pushed her out of her comfort zone. “I could go back and do it again, even though I don’t know if I would necessarily want to,” she said.

Asked why she chose the Air Force as her preferred service branch, Potter said, “The Air Force is the pre-eminent military force across the world.”

“The Air Force is involved in supporting all branches of the military; they are all over the globe,” she said.

After getting her J.D., Potter said she hopes to enter the Judge Advocate General’s Corps — the legal arm of the U.S. military, founded in 1775 by George Washington. The corps contains officers who are also lawyers, and provides legal assistance to all branches of the armed forces.

Judge advocates can be prosecutors, defense attorneys, and can take part in all aspects of military litigation. Potter said her desired field involves the rules of engagement, defined in the Air Force military doctrine as “directives issued by competent military authority that delineate the circumstances and limitations under which U.S. forces will initiate and/or continue combat engagement with other forces encountered.”

Potter described the role in layman’s terms: “I would be charged with making sure any use of force is legal and ethical based on national security and the policies provided by the Air Force; it’s a big, important job,” she said.