Republic High School senior Noah Johnson described himself as a lost “troublemaker” in middle school, but he’s transformed his character over the last five years to forge a different path.

“Before high school, I was not the best student. In eighth grade, I decided to turn my life around,” Johnson told the Springfield News-Leader. “I realized I had potential to do things, to go places, if I just tried. I came to the high school with the mindset that I needed to start fresh.”

This transformation began with a decision, was surrounded by encouragement, and focused on a goal. Noah is seen as stepping into a larger story and this is crucial for character development. James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, writes in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America, “Implicit in the word character is a story. It is a story about living for a purpose that is greater than the self. Though this purpose resides deeply within, its origins are outside the self, and so it beckons one forward, channeling one’s passions to mostly quiet acts of devotion, heroism, sacrifice, and achievement."

The Missouri teen joined the Republic High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), and focused on his studies. His humble dedication earned him recognition as outstanding first-year cadet.

“After that, we knew the potential was there,” Lt. Col. Patrick Sanders, head of the Republic ROTC, told the news site.

"I'd give him a job to do as a sophomore and he'd need a little guidance. His junior year, he'd just do it. By the time he was a senior, he didn't even need to be told," Sanders said. "You name it, he's grown in all the areas — maturity, leadership, behavior. It's huge growth."

Johnson’s grades improved, as well, and he earned a 32 out of 36 on his ACT. He also played snare in the marching band. When it came time to apply for colleges, he set his sights on the U.S. Air Force Academy, knowing only one in 12 applicants receive an appointment, and even fewer from small rural public schools.

"That seemed like a challenge and I'm up for a challenge," Johnson said. "I thought, 'I'm going to try for there.'"

The Academy reviewed Johnson’s grades, activities, fitness, leadership and character, as well as nominations he received from U.S. Rep. Billy Long and U.S. Sensators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill as the senior waited to hear back, the News-Leader reports.

Johnson’s family and counselors encouraged him to apply to other schools, as well, and he earned full-ride scholarships to several. But his family’s history of military service and interest in aviation made the Academy his top pick.

“If you want to be a pilot, one of the first things you look at is the Air Force,” he said. “The prestige of going to the academy interested me.”

A year after starting the application process – five years after refocusing his life – Johnson received word that he was selected for an appointment, a value of more than $400,000 that includes tuition, room and board, medical, and a monthly stipend, according to the news site.

"I never had any doubt in him," Sanders said. "He started excelling later, in his high school career, and now he's the top dog."

When teachers and principals think about how to motivate students who could do more with their lives than just pass time in school without accomplishing much there are lesson plans at the UK's The Jubilee Centre.  These lessons plans focus on flourishing from the margins and can be found here.


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