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Profiles in Persistence: Mary Swanson ’21

A photo of 2021 USM graduate Mary Swanson

For Mary Swanson ’21, the path to USM was a winding one.

She dropped out of high school at 16. Joined the U.S. Marine Corps at 17. Got her GED and took some community college classes as her military career spanned the United States and Japan. She had two children. Left the military. 

Had an identity crisis. 

"When I got out, I just kind of thought, 'If I'm not a sergeant, what am I?'" she said. 

This spring, Swanson, 29, will be a USM graduate with a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology and plans to attend law school. She hopes one day to become a judge.

"Serving my community is a part of my personal identity," she said. "I have a personal interest in constitutional law and how the federal court systems affect families."

Swanson began looking into college after she left the military. She knew she wanted a Maine school that was close to family without being rural, and she wanted a university that was military-friendly. She searched online with that criteria. 

"USM popped up," she said. "Lo and behold, I got to USM and immediately connected with the Student Veterans of America chapter, Husky Veterans. From there, it just began my academic career."

Swanson originally majored in Biology but changed to Psychology. She'd had her own childhood traumas, and a focus on human behavior appealed to her.

"I want to understand why people do what they do and I want to take that information and, first of all, I want to be a child advocate and represent children like me one day," she said. "I want to know why people do what they do and then use that information to help write legislation and laws that could protect our community and our children."

At USM, Swanson didn't wait to begin helping others. She and other students started the Maine Student Veterans Alliance to support USM student veterans and she served as co-executive director. She served as president of the USM Veterans Club. She served as parliamentarian for USM's Student Government Association and Board of Student Organizations.  

In helping other people, Swanson found she also helped herself through tough times.

"I just needed to take a step back and remember, OK, you're here because you want to go to school because you want to make a difference in your community and be a lawyer. That's what I started to do. I healed myself by pouring myself into work and the community and volunteering and helping other people," she said. "I was like, 'I'm going to volunteer for everything.' Because it was helping to keep my mind off the depression, my mind off of the divorce."

Swanson plans to go to law school after graduating with her bachelor's degree this spring. She has applied to 16 schools, including the University of Maine School of Law, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and American University in Washington, D.C. She's waiting to hear. 

"I have many aspirations for my career; it is hard to put them into words; my first goal is to become a child advocate attorney. My next focus will be to be selected for a federal clerkship and then next to the supreme court fellowship," she said. "The sky is the limit."