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Oluwaseye "Mary" Awoniyi

Oluwaseye “Mary” Awoniyi

Cadet Spotlight

by Robin Roenker

Oluwaseye “Mary” Awoniyi has always known she wanted to be a soldier and a lawyer. Since the age of 12, she’s had her sights set on joining the prestigious ranks of the Army’s elite JAG Corps.

With scholarship support from UK’s Army ROTC program, Awoniyi, 22, is about to begin her second year of law school at UK, forging a direct path toward her dream.

“I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I’m exactly where I want to be,” said Awoniyi, a native of Nigeria who moved with her family to the United States when she was six.

Awoniyi is the first-ever law school Army ROTC cadet at UK. She joked that she’s the program’s “test run.”

Sometimes, there are challenges to being a trailblazer: her law school finals don’t always coincide with the finals of the rest of the undergraduate ROTC cadets, and waking up for PT formation at 0630 hours when she’s been awake until 2 a.m. reading law proceedings isn’t easy.

But Awoniyi says her UK ROTC professors have been amazingly supportive and willing to work around her unique schedule—particularly given the fact that she’s had prior military service experience.

Just after graduating in 2004 from Louisville’s Male High School, where she was the school’s first-ever female ROTC cadet battalion commander, Awoniyi enlisted at age 17 in the Army National Guard.

For four years, as a Transylvania University undergraduate, Awoniyi pursued a major in English and minors in German and anthropology during the week, and on the weekends and summers, she drilled with the National Guard.

The Guard even sent her abroad to Germany, where her language skills were so strong she convinced some locals she was a native.

Awoniyi had planned to attend Army Officers Candidate School after college graduation. A chance run-in during her junior year with the UK ROTC recruiter—she’d brought a friend to Buell Armory to enlist in the National Guard—informed her that ROTC could help pay for law school.

From that moment on, UK became her top choice.

“When they told me that, I was in their office ready to sign up so fast,” she said. “It’s crazy how things work out.” She received an honorable discharge from the National Guard in order to be eligible to receive the ROTC scholarship.

Awoniyi admits that balancing the demands of law school along with the ROTC requirements hasn’t been easy. She’s had to make sacrifices—like studying all day last Thanksgiving at Starbucks, rather than visiting family. And there have been several sleepless nights.

“Law school is hard. That’s an understatement. But I love it,” she said. “The environment here is so supportive.”

She knows this coming year, classified her MS3 year with ROTC—where she’ll have coursework relating to the law of war and military operations and tactics, among other topics—will also be especially demanding.

“Your MS3 year is really challenging, because they’re preparing you for summer camp, which is where they evaluate your leadership potential...I realize in order to balance the two, I may not get to have as much fun as some of my friends. I might have to make more sacrifices than others. But it’s something that I’m willing to do.”

While at UK, Awoniyi hopes to focus on family law or immigration or international law, and her ROTC faculty have already begun helping her navigate the complex steps required to apply for the JAG Corps.

“They’ve been really great in doing the research for me,” she said, “because I don’t know where to start sometimes.”

And when she’s waking at 5:40 a.m. three mornings a week to run a mile to ROTC physical training—where she’ll do pushups, sit-ups, and run some more—no matter how tired she is, she makes herself stop and think: she’s right where she needs to be.

“ROTC is helping make my dream a reality,” Awoniyi said. “It’s giving me an opportunity to work right now with people who will be future leaders of the Army right alongside me.”