Three-star General Flora Darpino’s ’83 recent promotion puts her in charge of the entire legal system within the uniformed Army, and establishes her as the face of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. In the military’s 238 year history, she is the first female to hold this position.
While this might be a daunting position for some, Darpino is approaching her new position just as she has everything else in her life, including her Gettysburg education – work hard and take chances.
Darpino has never been one to back down from a challenge, and that mentality was evident from the beginning of her Gettysburg experience.
“I came into college thinking that I was going to major in either accounting or political science. I liked both of those subjects and I’ve always done very well in those classes. My freshman year, I took a class in each of those subjects and another class in economics, just for fun.”
She recalls how, at the end of the semester, grades came in and she received the “worst grade of her life” in economics.
“Clearly, my economics class was more of a challenge for me. I decided to take a few more classes, really dove into it, and eventually fell in love with the subject.”
She asserts that Gettysburg’s greatest strength is the opportunity it provides for students to take risks, try new things, and – if they work hard enough for it – succeed, just as she did with her economics classes.
This opportunity for self-exploration exists outside of the academic realm too, Darpino said. “I had never been in a play before, but while I was at the College, I figured I’d give it a shot. I auditioned and received a part in a play. I joined the church choir. I was a tour guide. I worked in the alumni office. I was able to branch out during my time at Gettysburg and try things that I didn’t expect of myself.”
Every time, she found the challenge and the reward that followed to be gratifying.
Darpino attributes this mentality to her parents, both of whom were first generation Americans. They always stressed the importance of education and raised her and her four other siblings to work hard and to give everything their very best. As a tribute to her father, she chose to keep his last name when she married Chris O’Brien, ’83.
The values that her parents instilled in her also serve as her reasoning for joining the military.
Her then boyfriend, O’Brien, was in the ROTC program while at Gettysburg. After they graduated from law school – she from Rutgers, Camden, and he from West Virginia – he owed the military time. She didn’t relish having to take the bar exam every place he was stationed, and the more she thought about it, the more she said to herself, ‘Why can’t I do this?’ Never one to back down from a challenge, she joined.
And so, with her recent promotion to the head of JAG Corps, Darpino’s ethos of hard work will continue. She will give it her best, just as she did with those economic classes and all of her extracurriculars during her four years at Gettysburg.
Most importantly, she stresses the need for current students to take chances. “If I was afraid to take the chances that I did, I wouldn’t have all of the things in my life now that I love.”
Her recent promotion has garnered media attention, including features in the Sept. 3 Stars and Stripes and Sept. 10 Washington Post. Learn more about Darpino, her husband, and their Gettysburg experience, in this Fall 2011 Gettysburg magazine story.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803
Kasey Varner, communications and marketing intern
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