• From Being Shy to Reaching the Sky

     Sanderson High School senior Kennedy Williams

    Student: Kennedy Williams

    School: Sanderson High

    College: Appalachian State University

    June 5, 2018

    Before arriving at Sanderson High School four years ago, Kennedy Williams didn’t get out much. Now, she’s more or less running the show.

    “I was very shy and sort of anti-social,” said Kennedy.

    All that changed soon after Kennedy arrived at Sanderson. She signed up for the U.S. Air Force Junior ROTC program, thinking it might be some sort of boot camp or P.E. class that would get her in better shape. Little did she know it also would change her life.

    “When I joined (JROTC), it was a lot different than I thought it’d be,” she said. “Eventually, over time, I started getting used to it and realized it might be for me.”

    Was it ever. With a little encouragement and a lot of support from her instructors, Col. David Sammons and Chief Michael Price, Kennedy embraced JROTC and eventually rose to the top position.

    Rising through the Ranks

    From being a “little sergeant,” to the commander of her classroom, then completing a stint as deputy commander for the program, Kennedy wound up in the program's top job - Cadet Colonel, in charge of more than 100 Sanderson cadets.

    In that role, Kennedy has led the cadets in planning and executing all sorts of volunteer activities and organizing JROTC events. In fact, she oversaw the annual Capital City Drill Meet, a competition among a dozen high schools from across North Carolina. And she planned last year’s Military Ball, an event for more than 250.

    Taking Advantage of Opportunities

    “Whenever there was an opportunity for us to do something, I jumped on it,” said Kennedy. “I found a way to take the opportunities and made something out of them. I was trying to prove myself and let (her teachers) know I was serious about the program.”

    They got the message.

    “I think the biggest thing about (Kennedy) is her innate leadership and her willingness to be involved in community service,” said Sammons, who retired from Sanderson last year. “She looks out for other people. She cares about other people. It goes along with the values that we tried to teach in the (JROTC) program.”

    Sammons added that he can understand why Kennedy considered herself to be shy and awkward, but he saw something in her that she wasn’t able to see at the time. Some personal challenges were getting in the way.

    That’s why he gave her leadership opportunities, resulting in her Distinguished Cadet award last year and her lead position this year.

    It wasn’t just the instructors who were impressed. Kennedy earned the admiration of many of her classmates.

    “The kids just wanted to be around her,” said Sammons. “They really respect her.”

    Kennedy Williams proudly shows off the Appalachian State University banner

    Activities, Accolades and Appalachian State

    Kennedy’s activities and accolades have extended far beyond the JROTC program. She recently received the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) award for her citizenship and service.

    Kennedy also will attend Appalachian State University on an ACCESS scholarship, which ensures that recipients graduate debt-free.

    She won’t, however, be pursuing a military career. Instead, she will major in biology and minor in French, with aspirations of being an OB-GYN one day. Even though she’s grateful for her JROTC experience, Kennedy says she now realized that helping others via health care could very well be her true calling.

    “I would be passionate about it because (OB-GYN’s) are some of the most important doctors; they specialize in basically giving another person life,” she said.

    She turned down scholarship offers from several notable private schools to attend ASU.

    This didn’t just happen. Kennedy realized her aptitude for success after being tapped – and given the opportunity to prove herself – as a leader. And, again, with the support of her instructors.

    “My sophomore year I realized I had the potential to go to college, so it was time to get serious about grades and staying focused,” she said. The discipline she learned from JROTC helped her do just that.

    “I learned that as long as I put in my time and effort and try to do my best, I know that I’ll have a greater outcome,” she said. “I am excited. As of right now I feel like the future is looking pretty bright as long as I stay focused and commit to anything I put my time into.”