MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia -- Approximately 200 high school students attended Marine Corps Recruiting Command’s (MCRC) 2018 Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy (SLCDA) aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, from July 16-22.
Top-performing students from across the country were hand selected to attend the academy, which is a week-long program designed to positively influence rising high school juniors and seniors and return them to their communities more confident, selfless and better equipped to improve the lives of those around them.
“The purpose of the Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy is to take peer leaders from their high schools and teach them character, ethics and leadership with the hopes of them returning to their communities as better people,” said Col. Robert Goetz, the officer in charge of the academy. “The intent is to present our core values of honor, courage and commitment, while teaching and practicing concepts of leadership, ethics and service to others.”
Throughout the event, students conducted several physical fitness sessions, toured the National Mall in the District of Columbia, visited the Holocaust Museum, the National Museum of the Marine Corps and more. They learned Marine Corps martial arts techniques and experienced Marine Barracks Washington’s Sunset Parade featuring the iconic Silent Drill Platoon and the Commandant’s Own Drum & Bugle Corps.
The academy also exposed the students to the culture of the Corps; they participated in several leadership and character development classes that were oriented around Marine Corps leadership and ethics, based on knowledge passed down from one generation of military leaders to the next. Guest speakers shared their knowledge in classroom settings as well. They also visited Officer Candidates School, where attendees maneuvered across an obstacle course and learned what it takes to become a Marine officer.
“When I first arrived, I was kind of shocked and had some doubts about myself,” said Emerson Dycus, a student at Notre Dame de la Baie Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “I was able to push through some things I had no idea I was capable of doing.”
She conceded that she had a fear of heights, but explained that she conquered that fear during the confidence course, thanks to fellow SLCDA attendees.
“There is a sense of resiliency you have deep inside of you that you can tap into when you’re surrounded by people who lift you up,” she continued. “There is a hidden fire inside each and every one of us, and it takes other people to light that fire.”
Toward the end of SLCDA, platoons, which consisted of approximately 70 students, had to finish a Field Leadership Ethics Exercise that consisted of volatile humanitarian mission scenarios driving them to make ethical decisions in a time of uncertainty and chaos. They also divided and competed in a culminating competition, but later that same day, set their differences aside and serviced the community by cleaning the Town of Quantico’s beach, the Quantico National Cemetery and the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
“I don’t even have to talk to my peers about what I learned here,” Rachael Hass, a student at Grand Junction High School in Grand Junction, Colorado, said confidently. “I can just show them by reaching out to the kid who is sitting alone at lunch, or if we have a substitute teacher – kids love to mess with them,” she admitted, “I can be the one to stand up and say ‘they’re in the position of authority, and we shouldn’t be doing this.’”
The Marine Corps makes three promises to America: to make Marines, win the nation’s battles and develop quality citizens. The premise of SLCDA is inspired by that third promise. Dycus, who earned the Excellence in Leadership Award during SLCDA, took that as an example to emulate.
She said, “It’s all about service to other people, and I’m excited to take what I learned and pour myself out to help others.”
Two others earned the Excellence in Leadership Award: Jay Moirangthem, from Stephen F. Austin High School in Houston, Texas, and William Salyers, from RS-Central High School in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Another two earned the Superior Physical Fitness Award for being top of the class physically: Anna Fournaris, from Woodstock High School in Woodstock, Georgia, and Sebastian Munera from East Senior High School in Mankato, Minnesota.
Goetz described how SLCDA is about developing the leadership and characteristics of the students, not about recruiting for the Marine Corps. It’s more geared toward developing students’ leadership instincts, which translates well into their communities and ambitions for their future.
“The program started six years ago with only 50 students and has since grown to 200," he added. He pointed to that fact as being indicative of how well the past SLCDA iterations have gone and the impact the students have made.
Approximately 200 students graduated July 22, where bonds formed over the course of the week became visible; friends and families met and took group photos for memories. But before they departed, Maj. Gen. James Bierman, the commanding general of MCRC, shared some insight regarding the competitive selection process.
“Not everyone who wanted to be here, got the chance,” he said. “We had more than 800 applications, and we would have liked to take all of them, but there wasn’t enough capacity for everybody, so we had to make choices … all of you here today stood out among your peers. The reason why we picked all of you comes from the tangible and intangible; it was your potential that attracted us to you. All of you have the chance to go out and do something great in our society.”
Students applying or being nominated must be at least 16 years of age and be rising junior and senior high school students to attend SLCDA. A board of Marines select students based on their involvement in academics, athletics, extracurricular activities and community service, which tells the board if those applicants possess similar character traits as Marines.
To nominate a student, apply, or get more information about the academy, please visit https://slcda.marines.com.