TICONDEROGA - When Karissa and Ryan Cook were seniors at Ticonderoga High School in 2005, neither would have been able to envision where they are today.
Based in Monterey, Calif., for the second time in their married life, Ryan, now an E-5 staff sergeant, is enrolled in a two year intensive language course studying Pashtu with the Air Force as well as working on a bachelor's in mathematics online with Empire State College. After he receives his degree in April, 2011 he plans to work towards a master's in physics as he finishes his first six-year enlistment and enters his new four-year commitment.
Ryan already speaks Persian Farsi and Dari, and he is a blue belt in Jui Jitsu. He has already finished three deployments overseas in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and he knows that several more will come when he finishes his current language program.
However, he explained, "The Air Force gave me structure in my life and set my priorities to family and duty. My decision my senior year was that I needed a job that was reliable with good benefits and steady pay for my family. That is exactly what it has been."
Karissa is both an online student and an artist. She finished her associate's degree in business with the University of Phoenix in 2009 and has just begun a bachelor's program in photography at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. She has begun her own business, Karissa Cook Photography, and just had her first cover with the Offutt AFB magazine.
While she began by taking pictures of friends and neighbors after her husband bought her a camera of her own, today Karissa said, "I have liked moving around with my photography. I feel like it gives me a great opportunity to get out there and show the world what I've got. Many photographers dream of traveling around for a living, and I can."
While Karissa Cook Photography has become a business, Karissa is still undecided whether documentary or fine art is her ultimate goal.
She added, "I do know that I will focus on portraiture. I want people to remember my images by how they made them feel and then how they looked."
She describes her photo "Goodbyes Aren't Forever," a photo of her husband lacing his boots while holding their 2-year-old son Ryan: "The picture represents a military life. The walls are bare because moving so much makes it hard to call the place in which you are living home. The look on the soldier's face... he doesn't want to leave his family and life, but he has to go fulfill his duty."
Karissa and Ryan have four children, Emma-Kate, Audrey, Ryan Jr. and Natalie.
Both Ryan and Karissa feel the pressures of their choices.
Ryan explained, "It's really tough being away from my family, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I am proud to serve and to be able to take care of a six-person family at the age of 23."
Karissa's expressed her commitment to her children. Her schoolwork and her photography always work around naptime, bedtime, and family time. The children like to go with mom and even help out, especially 5-year-old Emma-Kate, who is developing an interest behind the camera and Audrey, now 3, who loves being in front of it.
What does the future hold?
Karissa said, "Ryan is always thinking ahead and planning and I am a live in the moment kind of gal."
Ryan wants to have college taken care of for their children. Karissa wants Emma to be a level 4 reader by the end of kindergarten. Ryan wants to be a purple belt in two years, and Karissa wants to see more of her photos published. Both hope to own a house once they settle at their next base.
While they have been far from Ticonderoga, both Ryan and Karissa think well of their years at Ti High. Karissa believes it is a time in her life she will not forget. She believes that "a few influential people who believed in me there really became part of my foundation to be strong and face any obstacle that came my way."
"Ticonderoga is the best place in the world to grow up," he said. "I went to many schools in my childhood, and I never felt a sense of belonging like I did when I went to THS."