The wake-up call came at 4 a.m. on a recent Tuesday in July. Talyn Munn, HCC class of 2014, had spent the night at The Sheraton hotel in Springfield.
After breakfast, she boarded a bus bound for the Military Entrance Processing Station at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. There, she was sworn in for the last time and boarded a plane.
Destination: Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes Naval Station, Chicago, Illinois - a.k.a. U.S. Navy boot camp.
The afternoon before, Munn, 19, had visited Holyoke Community College for the last time before entering the navy, reflecting on the nearly four years she spent here, first as a student in the Gateway to College program, then as a liberal arts major. She earned her associate degree in July, after completing her last class, Statistics.
"I got an A," she said.
Munn was barely 16 when she entered HCC's Gateway program, which takes students who have left high school or had trouble there and puts them in college classes where they earn their high school diplomas and college credits.
For Munn, high school had not been a good fit.
"I think it was the whole environment, the structure, waking up early in the morning and then back-to-back classes all day," she recalled. "There was not a lot of time or freedom to express your thoughts in a classroom as much as there is in college."
She recognized right away that HCC was different.
"I liked my teachers, basically. They were more engaged. They seemed more enthusiastic about teaching, so they made learning better."
She graduated from Gateway in the summer of 2012 and earned her high school diploma, though her time in Gateway wasn't without bumps. Early on, she was put on a list of students at risk for failing out.
"When I first came here I was still messing up really bad," she said. "I started crying. I knew that I wanted to do it but I wasn't putting the best I could into it. But after that day I just really stayed focused and realized, you can't have excuses in life. You have to be responsible to get what you want."
What she wanted to do was join the navy. Initially, she had planned to enlist after high school but her mother convinced her to finish her associate degree so her military pay grade would be higher.
Munn's first name, Talyn, is a hybrid of her parents' first names. She is the daughter of the Rev. Talbert Swan and Evelyn Munn.
She grew up in the Sixteen Acres section of Springfield, one of 11 children in a blended family, avoiding the troubles that sometimes befall city youth.
"A lot of people just feed into the environment around them, and people can just say it's easy to walk away or not to be influenced by peer pressure, but it's a real thing, especially where I come from," she said. "Cause people will pick on you. They'll pick on you subtly or really harshly if you don't do what is in, I guess. When I came here I had a lot of friends and I hung out with a lot of people. Some of them were wrong. So I guess I stepped away from things that I knew wouldn't benefit me and just started to focus on everything else. My mom would tell me all the time I want you to go to school and I want you to succeed but I can't do it for you. You're the only one who can do it."
Munn has been working continuously since she was 15 years old, even while in school.
"If I wanted something, I had to buy it myself," she said.
She was one of a group of students and Springfield community members, including her father, who successfully argued in favor of continued funding for the Gateway program when it was slated for budget cuts by the Springfield School Department.
She frequently speaks out about issues of social justice (often on Facebook), particularly as it relates to improving Springfield.
"Well, I just like to point out right from wrong cause a lot of people don't have common sense," she said.
That feeling of community responsibility runs in the family. Her father is president of the Greater Springfield NAACP; her great-uncle is state Rep. Benjamin Swan from Springfield.
"I've always wanted to give back. I feel like I want to follow in their footsteps, but at this point I'm not really in a position to do that," she said. "I want to get myself settled at a point where I can actually do more than just speak."
In January, Munn realized she could finish her associate degree by summer if she took 14 credits in the spring and one summer class.
"I just wanted to finish as soon as possible," she said.
She enlisted in February and, on top of her studies and a job at Burger King, she started training every day in preparation for boot camp. She worked out every morning, ran, ate healthy foods and drank only water. In the last few weeks before she left, she learned to swim, something she had long postponed.
"In every branch of the military, you have to pass a swim test," she said. "I started taking swimming lessons two weeks ago. I've been swimming at least five hours a day. I can swim now."
Photos: (Left) Talyn Munn at HCC. (Right) Vivian Ostrowski, director of HCC's Gateway to College program, talks to Talyn Munn the day before she shipped out for the U.S. Navy.