Stephen Mercer — 2011 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Stephen Mercer had a circuitous route to becoming a Dean’s Distinguished Graduate, one of only 12 students from the College of Liberal Arts.
A native Georgian, Mercer found his way to The University of Texas through the very selective process of the United States Marine Corps' Enlisted Commissioning Education Program.
He is completing his degree requirements in less than four years — a feat many find difficult enough to accomplish much less while serving as a staff sergeant in the Corps. Mercer missed one entire academic semester to attend the requisite Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.
Stephen Mercer (seated on ground), Abu Hyatt, Iraq, July 2006.
"Takin' a break with the gang while on patrol," he said.
United States Navy Captain D.N. Dixon, professor of naval science, wrote in his letter of recommendation that Mercer has "... dedicated over 1,000 hours assisting in the professional development of more than 100 midshipmen associated with our program. ... Staff Sergeant Mercer worked tirelessly to capture his experiences and generate a comprehensive training plan consisting of academic classes, field exercises, and physical training to prepare students for the rigors of future military service.”
Mercer’s Marine Officer Instructor Major Ty Kopke, an assistant professor of naval science, who spends close to 12 hours each day with students (and some weekends) wrote: “Stephen’s weaknesses are on par with most students’ strengths. ... He is a master of time management.”
Mercer is already responsible for the supervision of 63 other NROTC students. Major Kopke says Mercer “is a master of delegation, supervision, planning, and execution. ... Every aspect of his life is scrutinized.”
To date, he has served more than eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps that has already included multiple military operations on four continents and eight countries, often contending without the benefit of language translators or the presence of higher-level leadership.
He is a veteran of the 2006 military surge in Iraq and participated in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s operation to protect assets of up to $1 billion as they were transported through the Mediterranean Sea area.
Mercer’s father played an instrumental role in his choice of career and college major. As a U.S. Army solider deployed to Europe, the senior Mercer took the family with him. It was there that the younger Mercer learned “to love history at an early age,” he said.
After graduation, he will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. More travel and further education are also planned with the eventual intent of returning to the university as a history professor.
Mercer enjoys non-contact sports such as running, swimming, and rock climbing.
It's no wonder he finds inspiration from a bestselling author and runner, the late Dr. George A. Sheehan, “Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.”
Banner caption: Stephen Mercer, July 2006, Iraq; 2nd platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. Mercer was a squad leader of 12 marines and eight Iraqi army soldiers
Story by M.G. Moore
Department of History
Banner graphic by Suloni Robertson, art director for College of Liberal Arts