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Emerson Dycus: Ready to Lead

The following piece was published in the 2020 NDA Winter Magazine. Notre Dame Academy senior Emerson Dycus wrote an essay about her experience at the Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy in Quantico, Va. She experienced basic training, a war simulation in the woods, leadership seminars, a trip to the Holocaust Museum and a service day cleaning bricks outside of the Marine Corps Museum. She received the “Excellence in Leadership” award.

My forehead dripping with sweat and my body shaking with fatigue, a deep feeling of dread permeated my stomach. I remembered the words my mother spoke to me on the phone the night before: You’re going to be all right. In the heart of the Virginian wilderness, miles from the nearest road, I stood as still as can be. Inches from my face was Staff Sergeant Figueroa, a United States Marine, who was the gleaming definition of a war-hardened soldier. The veins along his forehead bulged while his gaze narrowed in on me. I held my breath, hoping he would pass by. The standoff continued for what seemed to be an hour. Finally, Staff Sergeant barked that he needed a volunteer to help him out.

I thought back to my first few hours on the base. We had arrived at Officer Candidate School to a screaming soldier in a fancy hat who told us with lots of vulgar terms to hurry up and get moving. Scrambling for my duffle bag, I dragged my petrified body off the bus and into hell. Everything about the Marine Corps seemed cold and inhumane. The obstacle courses towered above me with a menacing glare. The screams of new recruits echoed through the concrete walls. Bathrooms were devoid of all privacy; stall doors and toilet paper were nonexistent. The barracks had a large hole in the roof where water dripped in. Even the Marines themselves seemed alien and oblivious to our suffering. When I asked a sergeant how females were supposed to manage a whole week without toilet paper, he responded with a gruff, “Figure it out.”

To this day, I’m not sure if I acted out of terror, stupidity, or bravery. But when Staff Sergeant Figueroa’s icy stare penetrated into my soul, my hand shot up. Internally, I was kicking myself for volunteering, knowing I was setting myself up to be singled out. Little did I know, the simple act of raising my hand would lead to my receiving the Excellence in Leadership award from Major General James Bierman, commanding general of Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

It turns out that I had volunteered to be a squad leader for the week. My duties were to be in charge of a group of 15 or so kids, teach them drill, lead them in marching, and act as a liaison between the Marines and the kids. As simple as that sounds, being a squad leader at the Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy changed my life. I discovered that out of the grit of life comes some of the most beautiful lessons. 

Going in, I saw the Marine Corps as a horrifying and superhuman branch of the military. Now, I see them as some of the most honorable men and women in the world. On the outside, they are tough. But every Marine is like a lotus in the swamp. Inside they are the most humble, caring, and respectable people. They strive daily to live out their core values of honor, courage, and commitment. They believe whole-heartedly in the value of a team and never leave a fellow brother behind. They taught me that the best things in life don’t come easy and that sacrifice is the best way to strive for peace and love in the world. 

While I don’t plan on becoming a Marine, I still strive to live up to their standards every day. My experiences with them, although grueling, shaped me into the person I am. The most valuable advice I carry with me ironically came from the person who scared me the most: Staff Sergeant Figeroua. He taught me that despite what life throws at you, your battles are always won within. 

About the Author

Emerson Dycus is a senior at NDA. She is a student pilot, a cross country runner and a faith formation catechist. She hopes to work for NASA one day and plans to major in aerospace engineering in college. 

Check out the entire 2020 NDA Winter Magazine online.

About Notre Dame Academy: Notre Dame Academy is located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and is a co-ed Catholic high school founded by the Norbertine Order, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the Diocese of Green Bay. NDA’s distinctive history embraces the more than 120-year foundation of St. Joseph Academy, Abbot Pennings High School and Our Lady of Premontre High School. NDA offers a globally focused education with a leading IB Diploma Program. Its high-caliber educational community is focused on outstanding learning and creating a lifetime of opportunity for all students.