The Early Years
Jennifer Jean Harris was born on November 6, 1978, to Rosalie and Ray Harris of Swampscott, Massachusetts. As a young child she developed a determination to overcome obstacles in achieving her goals and a compassion for others. She was serious yet full of enthusiasm, and as she grew, so did her enthusiasm for life. That enthusiasm and her beautiful smile were contagious to those around her.
A favorite family story of her determination to overcome obstacles and that demonstrates early in life her skill of developing creative strategies to achieve her goal is how she learned to write. She preferred learning to playing with dolls and would repeatedly beg her Nana to teach her how to write the alphabet. Nana is right handed and Jen was left handed. Because she couldn’t hold her pencil the same way as Nana, she traced the letters that Nana wrote with her little finger until she perfected a beautiful penmanship.
When Jen was six, her mom, an elementary school teacher, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It became difficult for her mom to get around and do things that many people are able to do naturally. Jennifer was her mom’s big helper and her compassion for others started with those experiences. Jen helped around the house by being her mom’s hands. She always made cookies for friends and family during the holidays; she helped with the grocery shopping; she helped her mother write the grades of her students in her grade book, all the time being pleasant and happy yet still serious.
It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Jen was lucky to have such a village. In addition to her parents, Jen’s village included her grandparents, Nana and A-Pa, her Uncle Tony and later her village grew to include Aunt Linda whom Tony married when Jen was fourteen. Jen’s village was especially important to her given the restrictions placed on her mom because of her MS. As a result, Tony and Linda became a second set of parents for Jen, being actively involved in every aspect of her life.
Jen’s education began at Machon elementary school in Swampscott followed by Swampscott Middle School. She enjoyed the typical young girl and teenage activities. She was in the Girl Scouts as a Brownie, a member of the Swampscott Recreational Sailing program, and was a Swampscott Big Blue youth football cheerleader. By the time she entered Swampscott High School, she had mastered the ability to engage in multiple activities and do them all well! She was a member of the Student Council and was elected Class Secretary all four years for the Class of 1996.
She was a member of the Student Council and was elected Class Secretary all four years for the Class of 1996. She was in the high school band as a flute player in her freshman year and, she was selected to be a Drum Major in her senior year. She was an Honors graduate who was also involved in the Political Action Club, Spanish Club and Students for Action.
Her high school yearbook quote reflects her core values of hard work, excellence, compassion and service to others:
“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving individuals.
To that end each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the
same time share a general responsibility for humanity, our particular
duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.” -Marie Curie
Her compassion for others led to her passion for helping others. Jen worked at the Swampscott Town Library, was a candy striper at Salem Hospital, and participated in the walk for MS. She volunteered at the Swampscott Senior Citizen’s Dance, volunteered at My Brother’s Table and for the American Heart Association and Toys for Tots. As a member of St. John the Evangelist Church, her hometown parish, she was also a religious education instructor.
As a senior in high school, she learned about the military academies. They intrigued her as she wanted a different college experience, different from the four-year traditional model. After visiting the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY and receiving appointments to both, she selected the Naval Academy. Her multifarious interests, her passion for serving others and her love of sailing combined to draw her to Annapolis.