Although she's hardly your average freshman, Jessica Lynch in a few weeks will be trying hard to blend in at West Virginia University. At 22, the former Army supply clerk, who became an icon after her dramatic rescue from an Iraqi hospital in 2003, hopes one day to be a kindergarten teacher. She spoke with TIME's Wendy Cole about coping with the attention and prefreshman jitters.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU THINK ABOUT GETTING AMBUSHED IN IRAQ?
Every day. There's always something that reminds me of Lori [Piestawa, a friend who was killed during the attack] or one of my fellow comrades. Last night there were fireworks going off outside our hotel in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. I have to literally see the fireworks. If I just hear them, they sound a little like gunshots or bombs--it kind of puts you back there.
LOOKING BACK, DO YOU FEEL YOU WERE USED BY THE MILITARY TO INCREASE AMERICAN SUPPORT FOR THE WAR IN ITS EARLY STAGES?
I think I provided a way to boost everybody's confidence about the war. I was used as a symbol. They could show the war was going great because "we rescued this person." It doesn't bother me anymore. It used to. Through my book [I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, written by Rick Bragg], I have been able to set the record straight. I did what I could do and now let the record speak for itself.
WITH THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA WILL PAY FOR YOUR COLLEGE TUITION, DO YOU THINK OTHER VETERANS WILL RESENT THE SPECIAL TREATMENT?
I'm sure that's happening. But I think I definitely paid the price. I don't feel that I'm a hero or that I've done anything spectacular. I'm not trying to take advantage of the situation. These things are coming my way. If they were put in my shoes, they would be doing the same.
DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE POSSIBLE TO BLEND IN AT SCHOOL WHEN YOU'RE SO WELL KNOWN?
It's to the point [at which] I'm able to handle it better. It was hard getting stopped all the time when I wasn't used to it. It doesn't bother me now. But I don't want any special attention drawn to me. I'll try to blend in as much as I can. I have to say I am a little nervous--the freshmen that I'll be with were eighth-graders when I graduated from high school.
ARE YOU STILL GETTING PHYSICAL THERAPY? I UNDERSTAND YOU'RE WALKING WITH A CANE.
I feel great, though my recovery is still going slow. If I put the effort in and work at it, I think I'll be able to get rid of the canes forever. It's a goal I think I can reach. I'm busy with traveling and getting ready for school, but I still usually get physical therapy for about an hour a day. The only accommodation I need is a shower chair.
NEXT MONTH YOU'LL BE IN THE APPLE FESTIVAL PARADE IN JACKSON COUNTY, OHIO. DO YOU SAY YES TO MOST INVITATIONS FOR APPEARANCES OR SPEECHES?
It depends on my schedule. I've been invited to some pretty wild, crazy things. I can't do everything. I would love to be there for everybody, but there's only one of me. I'll have to cut back when school starts.
DOES THE FANFARE HELP MAKE UP FOR YOUR INJURIES AND LOSS OF CLOSE FRIENDS?
I would do anything to have my friends with me. I would definitely choose them over the travel and all the experiences and the fame.