James Mercer of Ramona has an $80,000 chance to select the college of his choice after his graduation last Sunday. That is the amount the Navy awarded him to pursue a degree in engineering. A petty officer first class presented the award to James during awards night May 10 at Centre.
James didn’t have an easy time during his adolescent years. After eight years in Centre Elementary School, his parents separated, and he moved around a lot and attended different schools. He returned to Centre last fall to finish high school.
His mother, Sheila Brown, said James always has gotten good grades, especially in math. His stepfather, Clinton Kidd, said whenever they were together in the checkout line in the grocery store, James had the change counted back before the clerk did.
James, the second of seven children, wanted to go on to college but his parents couldn’t afford to send him, so they suggested he go into the military.
“I didn’t want to learn to shoot guns and kill people, and Air Force personnel seemed snobby, so I looked into joining the Navy,” he said.
His recruiting officer in Manhattan gave him a practice test, and he earned a high score. The officer sent him to Navy headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, where he took the real test and earned a basic score of 90 out of 99 and mechanical comprehension score of 262 out of 300.
Those high scores helped him earn the $80,000 scholarship.
“They kept saying what an exceptional score I had,” he said. “They said, ‘What do you want to do?’”
He decided on nuclear engineering.
He said he could spend four to six years in college to earn his degree, but if he does it through the Navy, he can complete it in one-and-a-half to two years.
He isn’t sure yet where he will go. He could start at Kansas State University, go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or apply for officer training at the U.S. Naval Academy.
He will leave for basic training in Michigan in July, but the day before, he will attend a Cardinals baseball game in St. Louis, where he and other recruits will be sworn in on the field.
His mother is excited about the future because James told her he will build the family a new house after he graduates with his engineering degree.