NORWALK, Calif. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ South Pacific Division commander joined three district commanders to speak to students at Southeast Academy High School Jan. 13 in Norwalk, California, and helped present five-figure scholarships to two students.
Brig. Gen. Antoinette Gant was accompanied by Col. Julie Balten, Los Angeles District commander; Col. Chad Caldwell, Sacramento District commander; and Lt. Col. Kevin Arnett, San Francisco District commander, as they met with students and academic leaders to discuss opportunities for service to the nation through military and civilian careers with the Corps.
Gant kicked off the visit by addressing a morning assembly of students, focusing on topics such as leadership, service and making the best of opportunities to better oneself and those in one’s orbit.
“To be accepted into this academy and do what you are doing is quite significant,” Gant told the students. “That’s dedication and hard work. Congratulations to all of you because what you are doing now is helping set you up for success later.”
Gant said that doesn’t necessarily mean military service; it means being a good citizen, and learning and practicing the core values, qualities and skills the school offers. One of those skills is leadership.
“We always say that leadership is not just a noun; it is an action,” she said. “Everything you do is about helping make others better and the ability to influence others.”
A person doesn’t need to be in a leadership position to be a leader, she added. Leaders can positively influence and inspire others, regardless of rank or a job title. With her visit falling on the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Gant related many of her topics — especially leadership and service — to him.
“Service is about giving more of yourself than you expect in return — or even not expecting anything back,” Gant said. “Dr. King did that every day, such as with the many boycotts he led, being able to go into the White House to advocate for those things that would make the country better and giving the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
“He says in that speech he wants to make sure that one day that his four kids are not judged by their color, but of the content of their character and what they actually do,” she added. “Because of that, you’re able to be in the positions you are and be able to participate in such a great school, like Southeast Academy.”
Gant also took special time out and joined the Los Angeles Strategic Officer Recruiting Detachment to present five-figure scholarships, on behalf of U.S. Army Cadet Command, to two accomplished cadets toward tuition and fees for any University of California or California State University schools.
“I’m full of emotions right now,” said Southeast Academy senior Evelyn Bejarano, who received one of the two scholarships, alongside classmate Erick Estrada.
“I was crying because back when I was a freshman, although I did have high standards for myself, it doesn’t always register that you’ll get there one day,” she said, along with some advice to her peers: “Being involved in academics, I’ve learned you have to make sacrifices to succeed, but you have to strive for what you want. If you really put your mind to it, you will get there no matter what.
“Once you succeed, plan your next goal,” she added. “I want to be a lawyer, and I want to help my community by standing up for them. My community gives back to me; I want to give back to them.”
After the assembly and presentation, the four Corps’ leaders talked with students about opportunities specific to the Corps.
“What we’re trying to get our young adults to understand is that there are so many opportunities out there,” Gant said. “One of them just happens to be the military, and in so many different aspects: You can enlist, you can go into ROTC or Officer Candidate School to become an officer, but we are fortunate, especially in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to be able to have our districts incorporated into the communities. The work we do is for the communities. It includes flood-risk management and helping under-represented communities, for example.
“The Army, even though the majority of the Corps’ workforce is civilian, is playing a huge role in helping to shape and make their communities that much better,” Gant added. “The students here are on a great path to knowing what it means to be a good citizen in their communities, so having them consider military service is a bonus.”