What does one think while walking nine miles to an ROTC ceremony early in the morning?
“The one time I remember, it was, ‘Don’t mess up,’” John Scott recalled in a phone interview this week.
That might sound simple, but simple is not something to be taken for granted in Scott’s life.
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The Tecumseh senior endured many challenges in his home life to make it to graduation day.
Aside from the occasional hours-long walk along U.S. 40 west from Springfield to THS for ceremonies that were not mandatory but the he did not want to miss, Scott found himself living with friends at times.
He also had to overcome a bad reputation at school that was developed when he was young.
“I didn’t really have a lot of like parental guidance,” he said. “It wasn’t like strict or anything, so I felt like I could do whatever I want when I wanted to. I had that attitude – until I got in ROTC, and it was like,’ This is not okay.’
“I started maturing, I would say, and actually thinking about my actions and how it would affect my future.”
Ivan Gehret, who was formerly the head principal at Tecumseh High School and is now an assistant superintendent, said Scott was never a bad kid.
“He just didn’t know any better,” Gehret said. “He just wanted people to notice him.”
Gehret said he got to know Scott in eighth and ninth grades and by then found him to be much different than the student he had heard about from earlier in his academic career.
“The stories I heard, they were just stories to me because the reality of the student I dealt with was someone who had matured,” Gehret said. “But the middle school teachers or whoever that knew him before, they’re just kind of in shock how far that kid has developed.”
Angela Scott, a cousin of John, called high school a fresh start for him – though not one that was positive initially.
“At the beginning of the year, the main office knew who John was – and not for good reasons,” she said. “He joined ROTC his freshman year and this was the best thing for him. It gave him structure and new friendships. It gave him something to work for and showed him a future that was stable and successful.
“By the end of his freshman year, John really was a new kid, and if you knew his past you wouldn’t believe it until you saw it.”
John confirmed joining the Junior ROTC program was key in helping him turn things around.
“It was making me a better person, and I realized that,” Scott said. “You know it, it took me from in eighth grade getting charges against me from the principal in the middle school to, ‘Hey, now I want to be a cop’ kind of thing. It taught me respect and just made me who I am today.”
Next Scott plans to join the military, though which branch is still being worked out.
“I full-heartedly will enlist in some type of branch within the next month or two,” he said.
“I want be a part of something that’s bigger than myself. I want to start a legacy in my family, and I want to fight for my country. You know, I want a job title that says, ‘I fought for your rights.’”
A degree from Tecumseh and the opportunity to join the military are not things he is taking for granted because of the obstacles he had to overcome to reach this point.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s been hell,” he said when asked to describe his life. “It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure. There’s been times where I was threatened to move schools and stuff like that, but no matter what, even living in Columbus for a couple weeks, I was just still trying to get back to Tecumseh. It was hard, but you know I came back to Springfield, moved in with multiple buddies just so I could stay at Tecumseh so I can graduate from there.”
That was important to him because of the support he received from the community.
Among those who played a role were Gehret, Parady Ruf, a teacher’s aide who gave Scott rides to school when he needed them, and Maj. Doug Couch, his ROTC advisor.
“He was my inspiration, and he kept me going through it all,” Scott said of Couch. “So many people there helped me stay motivated to graduate, and there’s so many people there who actually changed me. Like Major Couch just kept me going, and I felt like if I didn’t finish strong and graduate from Tecumseh, there was going to be a piece missing.”
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