All across America, high school graduations mark the end of the long road to academic achievement and symbolize the bridge that spans adolescence and adulthood.
But for graduating seniors of Military members and others associated with the Department of Defense, high school graduation is more than that. It’s akin to graduating from basic training, an experience that is fraught with difficulty, challenge and reward.
That’s because many children of Military members and DoD civilians travel paths that may take them through many different schools, different countries and plenty of different teachers, not to mention two or three different sets of friends.
Different. Different. Different!
That level of volatility makes a military brat’s high school graduation, whether they’ve been student there four months or four years, the grandest achievement of their short and journeyed lives.
“It feels really good,” said 19-year-old DeWunn Wilson, a recent Prince George High School graduate. “To be settled for a period of time where you can actually make friends without having to pack up and leave makes you feel good.”
Wilson’s parents are Staff Sgt. Darrin K. and Shawn D. Douglas. Douglas is assigned to Company B, 266th Quartermaster Battalion, 23rd QM Brigade.
An Ardmore, Okla. native, Wilson has attended six different schools at two locations in Germany, one in Kansas and one here. He said making friends at each and every stop is one issue military brats are constantly dealing with, one that may impact how they fare in school.
“It seems like you’re moving every two or three years,” he said, “and once you get a good feel for the people you hang around with, it’s time to move again.”
That happened to Wilson at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in 1999. He said he developed meaningful relationships with schoolmates, was active in sports, enjoyed school and wasn’t far from his extended family in Oklahoma.
Then his father received orders for a second tour in Germany.
“It broke my heart to leave and go back,” he said.
Daniel Meyer, son of the 49th Quartermaster Group Commander Col. James Meyer and wife, Cathy, said he anticipated moving about every two to three years, and that it wasn’t much of an issue. At some point he noticed, however, that he didn’t have a hometown or friends from the first grade.
“The thing I miss most is not growing up with the same friends,” said the Thomas Dale High School graduate. “My civilian friends will sometimes talk about experiences they’ve had with their friends, and I’d be lost.”
Raqwon Perryman, a 17-year-old son of Fort Lee Warrant Officer Tara Garner, said that while moving repeatedly and adjusting to new friends and schools is difficult, a little bit of optimism helps.
“It was always rough picking up where I left off in a new place with new people I’ve never met,” said Perryman, who said he has attended no less than 10 schools, “but I try to keep my head up and make sure I make the best of the situation.”
Perryman said it also helps to be open-minded.
“To be a military child, you have to be open to new things because you’re always meeting new people and experiencing new things,” he said.
While keeping the proper perspective is essential to coping with new environments, military schoolchildren must also deal with varying academic standards and issues that affect grade placement. That caused the 19-year-old Meyer to repeat a grade when he was about
13, due to no fault of his own.
“I went through the eighth grade twice, mainly to catch up on math and English,” said Meyer, who said he was transitioning from a school in Hawaii at the time.
Perryman was also affected by grades. When he moved from the Fort Hood, Texas area to Prince George, Virginia’s higher academic standards took him for a loop.
“The grading system in Prince George is a lot different than at Fort Hood,” he said. “A lot of my ‘As’ in Texas were ‘Bs’ in Virginia so I had to step up my learning curve.”
The trials and tribulations of adjustment is not necessarily a negative thing.
Meyer, Perryman and Wilson said the instability that sometimes accompanies military family life made them better people.
Wilson, in particular, said that when his stepfather left for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, school-adjustment struggles suddenly took a backseat to more pressing issues like helping to run the household.
“I had to be a role model for my younger sister and help my mom,” said Wilson, who endeavors to attain a degree in nursing. “It made me think, grow and mature.”
Military schoolchildren have plenty of opportunities to grow and mature. Living in unfamiliar surroundings makes them more adaptable, more willing to learn and more tolerant of different people.
“From all the traveling we’ve done,” said Meyer, “I have a respect for other cultures and people. It’s made me more of a well-rounded individual.”
Who can ask for a better education than that? Wilson, Meyer and Perryman will now take their worldly experiences to the next level – college. Wilson will attend John Tyler Community College, Meyer, Eastern Kentucky University, and Perryman, Old Dominion University.
Surely, their experiences as military brats will be one factor in how they’ll take to college life. Meyer put it this way:
“I don’t know anyone from my school who is going to Eastern Kentucky,” he said, “but it will be just like another move.
“When you’re born into it, it’s easy.”