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School Desk Blog: Veteran’s Day – The Wildcat Way…

Veteran’s Day – The Wildcat Way…

Mendocino County is a very liberal county in a very liberal state. That observation leads to many misconceptions about who we are. To best understand what we value as a community, consider the dreams and commitments of Ukiah High students. As we prepare to celebrate Veteran’s Day, you’d likely be surprised to learn that the percentage of UHS graduates that enlist in the military directly upon graduation is nearly three times greater than the national average. Almost 3 percent of the UHS Class of 2018 are currently serving our nation in the military. Nationally, less than 1 percent make this commitment. More impressive, six of those graduates are serving in the United States Marine Corps.

This isn’t because there aren’t other options. Last month, I wrote about students gaining technical job skills in school and going directly to work. Frequently, I write about the college-going journey. The percentage of students qualifying to go to a four-year college directly after graduation has been higher in each of the last three years than in the prior twenty years. For students joining the military, it’s not an option–it is a dream, and Ukiah High School is committed to supporting the positive and productive dreams of all students.

The dreams of those who have become Marines have created some spectacular celebrations. A few weeks ago, Ukiah High School celebrated homecoming with a week of festivities full of school spirit, culminating in a football game on Friday night. That morning, a Ukiah High graduate from the class of 2018 graduated from Marine Corps bootcamp in San Diego. Then, he got on a plane with his parents and flew home to surprise his brother, a junior on our varsity football team.

As we rolled through the first quarter, the Wildcats were wrapping up another strong defensive performance and taking command of the game. There was a natural pause in the game. The Marine who graduated that morning was in his dress blues as he walked across the track in front of the stands to see his brother who was cycling off the field. Someone in the crowd yelled, “Thank you, Marine!” and spontaneous applause broke out. His brother looked up and saw him. The brothers embraced to even louder applause. It’s a moment I won’t soon forget.

The young man in dress blues was Dakota Laiwa-McKay and he was at the game to surprise his brother, Kalathan. Dakota fits the mold of a U.S. Marine. He’s a stellar athlete—a wrestler and football player—and an avid outdoorsman. He grew up learning to responsibly handle firearms and enjoys hunting with his father. And then there’s the rest of the story, the many dimensions of Dakota. His senior year, he took a theater arts class to complete his visual/performing arts requirement to qualify for a four-year college. The first time I saw Dakota on stage I was stunned. He may be the most natural talent I’ve ever seen on stage. At year’s end, Dakota played the lead role in a timely and hard-hitting student production about a disturbed youth involved in a school shooting. This future Marine was out front leading a group of students delivering a message to stop the madness of school violence. I was mesmerized. He might be better on stage than he was on the football field. Through his acting, he did an inspiring job of teaching people about the painful and complicated subject of mental health and school shootings.

Dakota’s homecoming was our most recent celebration of a graduate serving our nation. For the Class of 2018, that evening is bookended by the first celebration of a Marine last year. Last spring, we celebrated Emily Davis, an incredible student and someone driven enough to accomplish anything she puts her mind to. The United States Marine Corps presented her with a $180,000 full-ride ROTC scholarship to the University of California, San Diego.

In between Emily and Dakota are many more stories. On this Veteran’s Day please join us in celebrating our graduates who have served our nation. Every day, please join us in supporting all students who work to pursue positive dreams.