Service determines community. This belief is certainly apparent in the world I enjoy as a public educator. As I write this, our nation is celebrating Veteran’s Day on November 11th. This day honors men and women who have served our nation in uniform. This is service of the highest order. We should also celebrate these veterans for carrying forward the leadership of service throughout their lives.
Ukiah High School teacher and coach Adam Aikman exemplifies a veteran’s spirit of service. Mr. Aikman grew up in Ukiah, the son of a teacher and coach. He was a stand-out athlete at Ukiah High School - football, wrestling, and baseball. After graduating in 1987, his academic and athletic abilities carried him to study and play football at Santa Rosa JC, Cal Poly Humboldt, and U.C. Davis. While in college, Adam followed in his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Reserves. Following college graduation, Adam had an eye to become an officer like his grandfather, who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Adam enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1992.
His four years as a Marine changed every aspect of his life - from the intense demands of Infantry School to overseas service on Naval vessels directly supporting front-line combat operations in Somalia and Iraq. He experienced a cultural epiphany after being with the first U.S. forces allowed in Jordan in fifty years. His service to our nation illuminated the positive power the U.S. can offer the world. It also strengthened his sense of patriotism and commitment to the unity of this nation.
In 1999, Adam briefly visited Ukiah after he served as a Marine and between jobs. That brief visit resulted in being offered a teaching and coaching job at Ukiah High School. Over the next seven years, he served as the head coach for varsity wrestling. His teams captured five league championships and placed second in the North Coast Section. He took time away from coaching to care for his growing boys. In 2014 he rejoined the wrestling team as an assistant coach. With head coach Thomas Fragoza, the team developed into a championship team, winning eight additional championships.
With piercing eyes and an aura of calm, Adam is deeply thoughtful. He is also an extremely humble person. His life has been one of service. His service taught him the skills to lead the full spectrum of students and athletes he coaches every day - including the most at-risk children in our community. Reflecting on this life of service, he cherishes the connections of a lifetime of shared support with the Marines he served and the students he taught and coached. Lives served, lives changed.
In recent years Mr. Aikman has also served as a department chair and on the school’s leadership team. His tenure in these positions has coincided with the challenges of educating amidst a global pandemic. At the most critical moments, he quietly offers us what he learned serving as a Marine – improvise, adapt, overcome. This is the attitude of a champion, leading staff and students as they face so many unknowns. Improvise, adapt, overcome - don’t complain and don’t back down - that is the lasting power to be found in celebrating our veterans. It is the quiet service and strength that determines community. Thank you, Adam - thank you, veterans.