30 Days, 30 Grads: Central alum achieved 2 goals at 1 school

30 Days, 30 Grads: Central alum achieved 2 goals at 1 school

CHAMPAIGN — After he graduated from Central High School in 2013, Sean Noa knew he wanted to join the military and go to college eventually.

"I just wasn't patient enough to do one right after the other," he said.

So he applied to the U.S. Naval Academy.

While there is no history of military service in his family, Noa comes from a long line of public servants, including his grandfather, a circuit judge for more than 20 years.

"There was always an attraction to doing some sort of public service for me, so I thought I would give the Navy a try," he said.

When he visited the academy's Annapolis, Md., campus, Noa knew immediately that it was where he belonged.

"I got a really strong sense of purpose and history that really spoke to me," he said. "Nowhere else seemed quite right after that."

Noa arrived at the academy knowing exactly what he wanted to study — history and German, two topics he developed a passion for at Central. He took German in high school and credits his former history teacher, John Staab, for piquing his interest in that topic.

Staab was the type of teacher who liked to have discussions rather than lec- ture, Noa recalled. He would sit on his desk in front of the class and talk to students in a way that helped keep everyone engaged and see the relevance of what he was teaching.

"I've always believed that to better understand a problem we're facing in the present, it's good to go back and look at the circumstance that led to it," Noa said. "Plus, history is better than fiction. It's a collection of incredible stories."

For his senior thesis, Noa completed a research project on the west African country of Liberia, focusing on the common history and connection it has with the United States. He became interested in the country because his roommate is part-Liberian, and he was curious to learn more about a place he knew very little about.

"It took months and months of late nights, but 40 pages later, the process finally ended, and I was told, 'Yes, we like this, and you'll graduate with honors.' That was my biggest accomplishment," he said.

Noa credited some of his Naval Academy professors for keeping his passion for studying the past alive. One, a captain, took students on a class trip to Gettysburg and read several accounts from the battle out loud while there.

"We saw that some of the accounts didn't quite line up. We walked the terrain and found it was all about perspective," Noa said. "Also, just being in Gettysburg in uniform was a great experience."

A former Central swimmer, Noa has always been a big fan of the water, which is part of why he joined the Navy. He even had the opportunity to learn to sail in school as part of a summer training activity.

"We sailed a 44-foot sailboat up to New York and into the harbor, past the Statue of Liberty," one of the best experiences of his life, he said.

Just a few weeks shy of graduation, Noa admits he's "suffering from senioritis," but excited to move on to the next chapter. For Noa, that comes in June, when he marries a woman he met in Champaign. After that, it's off to Panama City, Fla., for two years of dive school.

"I'm excited for what's ahead. I don't think there could've been a better school for me," he said. "This was absolutely the best choice."

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