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Washington Voices

Deer Park valedictorian breaks all the stereotypes

Melissa Stenslie is joining the Navy after graduating from Deer Park High.
Melissa Stenslie is joining the Navy after graduating from Deer Park High.

There are all kinds of stereotypes. If you’re a pageant contestant or an athlete, a good student or a cheerleader, you’re supposed to fit a certain mold, right?

Not so for Melissa Stenslie, 18, who is graduating from Deer Park High School along with her twin sister, Rebecca.

“I’ve got a little piece of just about every stereotype out there,” Stenslie said.

She was the 2011 Miss Deer Park and is a cheerleader at school. With her 3.97 grade-point average, she is class valedictorian. And she plays volleyball, belongs to the marketing and finance education group DECA, and tutors eighth-graders.

For her senior class project, Stenslie rebuilt the engine of her 1990 pickup. “It was kind of like a puzzle,” she said. “I’d take things off, do what needed to be done to them, remember where they went so I could put them back in the right place. And, of course, using the manual helped.” Stenslie also takes a welding class at school because she likes it and thinks it might be a handy skill to have. “It’s good to have mechanical skills,” she said. “It’s good to learn how to do things yourself. Taking things to a shop to get them fixed all the time can be pretty expensive.”

Stenslie likely developed her love for mechanical things from her father, Paul, who works in construction. He was a diesel mechanic in the military and did locomotive repairs when she and her sister were young. Sometimes she’d accompany her father and got to lay hands on the controls of the trains. She loved it.

Stenslie’s attraction has always been to develop her hands-on mechanical skills, something she plans to make use of after she graduates. She is enlisting in the Navy and enrolling in the nuclear engineering program. She hopes eventually to work on an aircraft carrier, making sure the nuclear propulsion systems are in good working order.

She said she’s attracted to that field because her aptitude tests show high proficiency there, it will challenge her abilities and intellect and, frankly, “it’s a better paid field.”

She’ll leave for training later this year.

“I’m really looking forward to the Navy, to doing something I’m sure I’ll love,” the stereotype-shattering Deer Park valedictorian said. “And being in the Navy will give me a chance to travel and see places. Besides I can’t think of a better way to serve my country, and I like that.”