“I wouldn’t be at the place where I am today without all the guidance and sacrifices of the staff from St. John’s. They never gave up on me, when I felt like others had. I don’t know where I’d be today, or where I’d be going if I hadn’t been supported and motivated by St. John’s. I’d just like to say, to everyone at St. John’s, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”Ian Sitarik
As he prepares to begin working toward a doctorate degree at Pennsylvania State University, former St. John’s Military School cadet Ian Sitarik reflects on the long and winding road that led him to his current academic achievements. It was not long ago that Sitarik found himself facing a crossroad in his life and had to make a difficult choice for how he would move forward. It was the lessons he learned while enrolled at St. John’s Military School that helped guide his next steps.
“I was in a difficult place,” Sitarik explained. “And I had to choose the direction my life was going to take. I decided to pursue my education and a career that will enable me to help others. I attribute the lessons I learned at St. John’s for guiding me in my decision.”
The Road to St. John’s
Born in Boulder, Colorado, Sitarik began his education in the public school system.
“In middle school, I became distracted by friends and didn’t focus enough on my academics. By seventh grade, I had fallen in with the wrong crowd, and my grades were suffering. My parents and I decided that a military school education would be the most prudent way for me to get some separation from the distractions and negative influences on my life.”
It was 2003, at the age of twelve, that Sitarik began his career at St. John’s Military School, where he would remain until his high school graduation. When he first arrived at St. John’s, like most new boys, Sitarik was nervous but optimistic.
“I remember arriving on campus and seeing the large Muleskinner statue and wondering what I had gotten myself into,” Sitarik says with a laugh. “It was scary but exciting.”
Lessons in Self Discipline and Responsibility
For Sitarik, one of the most significant challenges he faced early on as a St. John’s cadet was learning to be accountable to himself, and to his fellow cadets.
“Before enrolling in St. John’s I was living a sort of sheltered life in which, if I didn’t want to do something, it simply wouldn’t get done,” recalls Sitarik. “At St. John’s I had to learn that we were all in it together, and we all had to work together to get things done.”
Building Life-Changing Relationships
Like so many St. John’s cadets, not only did the school offer Sitarik the framework to develop personal responsibility and achievement skills, it offered him an opportunity to learn from trusted leaders and build genuine friendships.
“Back in Colorado, I wanted to be friends with everyone, but forming true friendships was a challenge. Students would pick on me, and it was very emotionally difficult. When I came to St. John’s, I knew that if I worked hard, I could change myself not just into someone that others liked, but more importantly into someone that I liked.”
It did not take long for Sitarik to formulate the friendships he was seeking. Reflecting back on his very first day at St. John’s, Sitarik recalls meeting his first roommate.
“My roommate, Joshua, was one of the first people I became good friends with at St. John’s. I quickly realized that all of us cadets were in the same situation and that we all had each other’s backs. It was such a realizing moment that I was finally in a place where no one was out to get me.”
Not only did Sitarik find a sense of camaraderie and support among his fellow cadets, but he was also inspired to succeed by the faculty and staff at St. John’s. He recalls a long list of faculty and staff who helped him achieve his goals and develop a sense of personal accountability.
“There were so many faculty and staff members who influenced me,” said Sitarik, “Especially Maj. George Stelljes, Staff Sgt Ricky Jordan, Capt. Brian Bell, and my high school English teacher, Mrs. Zerger.”
Continued Academic Achievement
After graduating from St. John’s, Sitarik enrolled at Colorado State University. However, back in Colorado, Sitarik was influenced by the old pressures and distractions that had set him off course in his youth.
“After graduating from St. John’s, I enrolled at Colorado State University,” said Sitarik, “but I ended up falling in with the wrong crowd again, and started to tumble downhill. I dropped out of Colorado State after a year, and six months later, I had hit a low point.”
Facing the most difficult challenges in his life, Sitarik realized that if he wanted to continue his education and achieve personal success, he would need to believe in himself and find confidence in his ability to accomplish his goals—lessons he learned at St. John’s.
“I packed up my bags and left Boulder, and all the people who were negatively impacting my life behind,” said Sitarik. “I got a job and worked my way through a community college where I earned my associate’s degree. From there, I was able to go back to Colorado State University and earn a bachelor’s degree in science.”
It was during his coursework Colorado State University that Sitarik’s path finally became clear.
“I decided to pursue chemistry because I wanted to help as many people as I can, and I felt that a career in science would be the best way for me to do so.”
Sitarik applied and was quickly accepted into the graduate program at Pennsylvania State University where he will work to earn his Ph.D.
“When I hit rock bottom, I realized I didn’t want to stay there,” said Sitarik. “I wanted to do something with my life, and I attribute that desire to my time at St. John’s. If I had never spent time at a place where I learned the value of true friendships, and how to be successful, I would still be thinking the same old mental gymnastics. I’d be thinking that the world was against me, and I wouldn’t have been able to break out of my routine and pursue what I really wanted.”
Lessons Learned from the St. John’s Brotherhood
As Sitarik begins the next chapter of his life, he often reflects back on the lessons he learned at St. John’s.
“St. John’s taught me that respect is a two-way street and that leaders lead from the front.”
Sitarik hopes to have the opportunity to go back to the St. John’s campus and thank the faculty and staff that were influential in helping him to realize his potential and chart a course for future success.
“I wouldn’t be at the place where I am today without all the guidance and sacrifices of the staff from St. John’s,” said Sitarik, a note of sincerity and appreciation in his voice. “They never gave up on me, when I felt like others had. I don’t know where I’d be today, or where I’d be going if I hadn’t been supported and motivated by St. John’s. I’d just like to say, to everyone at St. John’s, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”