The Paw Print

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The Paw Print

The Paw Print

My Teen Scene in the Colts Neck Journal (Unabridged Version)


I’ve been encouraged to share my perspective, one that I believe carries some valuable insights. I’m not a motivational speaker, philosopher, or some ancient seer…just a junior in high school here. I won’t act like I’m the keeper of all knowledge or the answers to your problems. But, in my own modest way, I have picked up a thing or two in my day. 

Very few times in my life I’ve been enlightened to the extent of where I was wholeheartedly sure of something. More recently, in my teen years, it has happened more often than ever. My priorities lie between my education, some extracurriculars, and mainly Navy Junior ROTC. Although my physical time in ROTC is minuscule compared to the rest of my life which awaits me… It seems like my life revolves around it, and I can’t imagine it any other way. I’ve been given an intrinsic development that will never depart as I continue to develop as a person and leader. With the utmost certainty and clarity, I can say that being a cadet in the Colts Neck High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps is hands down the best thing that has happened in my life. This resonates each and every day. My sense of pride is re-fulfilled with every button of my jacket, lace on my oxford, and each vibrant thread of my ribbons. In the mirror, I’m reminded of what I represent and how far I’ve come.  What would my life been without this program? 

In the dry winter months of 2021, I would await the decision of acceptance or rejection. Eagerly anticipating my fate I signed in to, at the time, my virtual classes. When the notification finally arrived, I would find that I was put on the waiting list. Crushed, I ran through the scenarios of what I did wrong. “What did I say wrong?”, I asked myself. Reassuringly, I was certain my language was professional and advanced so it must’ve been something else. The factors leading to the decision weren’t important, it was clear that I wasn’t good enough. It rang clear that I was unworthy of this prestigious program. Even if I wanted to accept my possible future as a cadet… I wasn’t even given the opportunity to. My fate relied on someone else denying their acceptance. My future relied on someone choosing a different path. So I had no choice but to wait and reflect. Eventually, I’d be at the top of the waiting list and the options had presented themselves. Accept or decline. Maybe I would decline, especially if these military guys thought I was unqualified. “I don’t need to be in a program that doesn’t want me,” I thought. What if I had listened to my once weak and defeated mind? What if I hadn’t challenged myself to take this on, and prove them wrong? I can’t say for sure where I’d be, but I know my life would look a whole lot different. My mentality of becoming defeated by others’ perception of me would’ve probably grown. I’d never challenge or push myself on to greater things. I’d stick to the status quo and just be a follower. Luckily, I’ll never have to know what my life would’ve been; and after accepting the challenge of ROTC I must focus on my life. 

The start of my high school career was completely deranged and my freshman year was impeded by the pandemic. After the seating in eighth grade was mandatory to be alphabetical, I was surrounded by the same three people for the entire year…none of whom applied to ROTC.  Everyone has different motivations and a different reason for why they do things. At the start of freshman year, my motivation was to be the absolute best I could be. Motivated by the odds stacked against me, motivated by each trivial doubt I had in myself, I was determined to be superior compared to my old self. This goal of personal maturity first made progress during my Basic Leadership Training. It wasn’t an instant transformation. When we were ordered to hold our monsters (folder enclosed with basic NJROTC knowledge) parallel to the deck I’d look around and give my arm a break when I had the chance. But as the week progressed I realized if I allowed myself to be bested by a paper folder, how could I ever accomplish anything remotely challenging? By the end of the week, I was proud to feel the throbbing burn in my muscles while I recited my knowledge to the Petty Officers. I channeled what I was good at, and worked on improving on my faults. I was good at being loud, so whenever someone said “Sound off!” I always did, and I always made sure I was ten times louder than them. I lacked in my PT skills so I pushed myself, and even though I gave up many times I wouldn’t let myself get discouraged. 

As the school year started  I was still weary of my worthiness as a cadet, so I focused on obtaining as many ribbons as I could. Sure they looked cool, but to me, they represented and reflected my success and capabilities within ROTC.  I did my color guards, and community service so I could get the ribbons. When I finally pinned them on I was as proud as I could be. That would only be the start. I ended up joining the unit’s Department of Public & Civil Affairs. At first, I was excited to snap some pictures, but as time went on I craved more. I wasn’t destined to just aim and click. That wasn’t my goal. That’s not being the best I could be. It was then that I realized that ROTC is what you make of it. You get out what you put in. No one was going to make me a good leader, or the perfect cadet. It would be up to me. When the opportunities presented themselves I took them, and when there weren’t any I created them. I expanded my knowledge on each aspect of the department, as well as the other departments to achieve the perfect co-dependent workflow. Through this strategy, I became the Department Chief of Public Affairs, which eventually led to my meritorious promotion to Cadet Chief Petty Officer at the end of my sophomore year. Through all that, I’ve still got a lot to work on, and even more to learn. I stay motivated by asking the question, “What am I doing this for?” Within this question, I’m constantly reminded of my personal goals and re-instilled with a sense of pride. A sense of pride that goes deeper than the array of colors from my ribbon rack, it’s a sense of pride that’s in my heart. It’s a sense of pride that you can know too. If you follow your heart and don’t let others put down your dreams, your dreams are yours. Cherish them so you can achieve them.  

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