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Salutatorian already on her way to the world

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By Jenna McKenna

Jaclyn Stefani doesn't know where she'll be in 10 years. She's not sure where in the world she'd really like to live. But with a career track of Army nursing and her EMT and CNA certificates already under her belt, she's put herself in a great position to find out - one place at a time, if necessary.

Stefani is the daughter of Peter and Gina Stefani, and Pete's big sister. She has the highest GPA in her graduating class - 3.666, and she'll be Cedar Key School's 2008 salutatorian.

"I've known for a really long time that I wanted to be a military nurse," she says. "I always knew I'd be a nurse or a doctor - in first grade I said I wanted to be a brain surgeon."

The daughter of a chef - her dad is a chef and runs the Island Room at Cedar Cove and the Depot Caf on Dock Street - Stefani grew up in fine dining rooms meeting the most interesting people from all over. One of them was a doctor who used to visit the Island Room every year. Stefani got to know him and his family, and her interest in medicine intensified.

In addition to her regular classes at CKS, Stefani took her EMT training at Central Florida Community College in Chiefland and has been dual-enrolled at Santa Fe Community College for nursing. She's also taking Army ROTC.

"I've already finished most of my prerequisites for my RN, and hope to finish in three more semesters," she says. "Then I'll transfer to UF."

When she graduates from the University of Florida, she'll take a commission as a second lieutenant with four years remaining on her eight-year ROTC commitment. From there, she hopes to enter active duty for at least a 20-year Army career. But there are many adventures between here and there.

Weekend ROTC training is one. Her nursing practical training is another. Because Stefani's ultimate medical goal is probably pediatric oncology nursing, she hopes to train at Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville. In her ROTC program, the summer before her senior year at UF, she'll be able to choose any Army hospital in the world and run a floor in her specialty.

Stefani shows incredible focus and commitment to her own success, something she learned at home.

"My mom and dad have always been my main influence," she says. "I still see my dad on his feet four or five nights a week at the restaurant. And my mom started with nothing and has worked to earn everything she has. They've taught me the value of a dollar, and everything else."

While many in her class are counting the minutes until graduation, Stefani has had one foot out the door for ages. Her parents, who have guided her well, are filled with pride but not quite ready to let go.

"Even though I had known for years I wanted to be in the military, it took me a while to be able to tell my mom," she says. "She took it pretty well. She's glad to see me going to college."

Before she takes her next giant step, Stefani will graduate and look around at Cedar Key, measuring her time here. Any regrets?

"I was kind of ticked at not getting to be valedictorian, but you have to have a 3.7," she says, mostly joking. Oh, to round to one-tenth.

"But I'm over it. I've moved on."

Jaclyn Stefani's going - watch her go far.