SJMS Cadet receives early admittance, full JROTC scholarship to U.S. Naval and U.S. Air Force Academies

I’ve also learned that you can’t view yourself as more important than others. I had that attitude for a while, but I realize now that as a person and as a leader you can’t treat others as less than you. Cadet Max Duncan

Today, as a senior and a second-year cadet at St. John’s Military School, Elton “Max” Duncan of Aurora, Colorado has before him a future of limitless possibilities.

“Max reaches for the stars, and he lives life to the fullest,” said Gabriele. “I truly believe he is made for greatness. There is something special about him.”

Today, as a senior and a second-year cadet at St. John’s Military School, Max has before him a future of limitless possibilities. Having earned early admittance to both the United States Naval Academy and the United States Air Force Academy, as well as a $200,000 Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, Max is prepared to embrace his dream, one in which he will follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and his father by serving his country. For Edward and Gabriele, they are grateful for the time Max has spent at St. John’s and credit the school’s leadership focus and disciplined structure in helping Max achieve such prestigious honors.

The Sky’s the Limit for a Future of Possibilities

The Duncan Family

Since he was a young child, Max has held a desire to not only follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and his father by serving in the armed forces, but to earn a career in aviation—like his parents. It was no surprise to Edward and Gabriele, then, when Max first told them he wanted to pursue military service after graduating from St. John’s. To achieve his goal, Max applied for early admittance to both the United States Air Force Academy and the United States Naval Academy. As a testament to his achievements and his leadership qualities, he was accepted into both institutions and also received a full Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship.

“I’ve always known I wanted to fly,” said Max. “My parents introduced me to aviation, and I visited the Air Force Academy while we were in Colorado, but now that I’m enrolled in a military school, I really understand what it will mean to be at a military academy, and it has solidified my decision to choose that path.”

Edward and Gabriele credit the resume that Max has been able to create for himself during his time at St. John’s for helping him earn two such prestigious early admittances.

“Max probably wouldn’t have received early admittance to both academies if he hadn’t come to St. John’s,” said Edward. “It is a blessing. Only one-third of Academy acceptances are given out early and to be accepted so early to both—we felt like they were competing for Max. I believe in the providence of God, and while I don’t know what the future holds for Max, I believe everything is happening for a reason, and I don’t believe it would have happened if not for St. John’s.”

With two outstanding opportunities before him, which did Max choose? While honored by both offers, the choice, ultimately, was an easy one for the young man who has always dreamed of flight.

“I always knew I wanted to go into the Air Force,” said Max. “My Dad was in the Air Force. It’s close to home, and it’s the best way to become a pilot.”

For Edward and Gabriele, they are confident that Max will achieve his goals—and so much more—in the years that lay ahead of him.

“We hope that Max does well and advances to his full potential,” said Edward.

Gabriele echoes her husband’s sentiments, adding, “We hope Max can take advantage of this opportunity to reach his goals and to fulfill the plan that God has for him. I don’t know what the future holds for Max, but as long as Max lives each day of his life with joy in his heart, even in times of hardship, then God’s plan for him will prevail.”

The Path to St. John’s Military School

Cadet Max Duncan

Born in Houston, Texas, Max moved to Aurora, Colorado with his parents at the age of 14 where he attended a large public high school through his sophomore year.

While Edward and Gabriele were pleased with the academic reputation and focus of Max’s school in Aurora, and of Max’s scholastic performance, they wanted to give their son an opportunity to stand out the way they knew someone with his talent and capabilities deserved.

“In such a large school, it was easy for even a talented student like Max to get lost and stay in the middle of the pack,” said Edward. “The school lacked the type of discipline or structure needed for strong-willed, energetic young men to thrive. We also worried the teachers weren’t able to show Max and the other students the personal interest and attention they deserved.”

Edward and Gabriele also wanted Max, who is a talented athlete and soccer player, to be educated in an environment where the time available for his academic focus would not be compromised by athletic team requirements. To provide Max with a more structured, more individualized, and more attentive academic environment, the Duncan’s decided to enroll Max at St. John’s Military School.

“At St. John’s, there is a reward system, and there is a focus on leadership and the ability for students to truly earn their success, which elevates their desire to do better,” said Gabriele.

For Edward and Gabriele, sending Max to St. John’s meant a painful separation from their son, yet, as parents who want to give their child the best of every possible opportunity, they were confident in their decision.

“We only have one child; I want to be a part of his life, and I have been since the day he was born,” said Gabriele. “I knew I was going to miss being part of his daily life. It was one of the hardest decisions in my life to let my son go, but I don’t regret it. It was a hard decision, but it was the best decision, and sure enough, Max has thrived at St. John’s.”

Embracing Opportunities at St. John’s Military School

While it was a challenge for Max to leave his parents, his friends, and his teammates on his soccer team in Aurora, he chose to fully embrace every opportunity available at St. John’s from day one. In his year and a half at St. John’s, Max has become an active and vital member of the school’s varsity basketball team, varsity tennis team, choir, praise band, chapel council, and bible study group. He is the chess club president, and a member of National Honor Society. Max has also earned the role of dedicated pianist for the school, playing the national anthem and the school’s alma mater for all celebratory school events, including the annual commencement ceremony. As the executive officer (XO) of one of the school’s companies, Max is also responsible for helping his fellow cadets maintain high academic standards, which has led him to commit his time generously to tutoring. Of course, Max wasted no time getting back on the soccer field as well.

“On my first day at St. John’s I was on the soccer field. I’ve played soccer here the past two seasons, plus I’ve played on our indoor club soccer team.”

Academic Achievements and Guidance

Not only has Max been fully engaged in extracurricular activities and leadership opportunities at St. John’s, but he has also continued to excel academically, taking several concurrent college-level courses in his senior year at the Kansas State University Polytechnic campus. For Max, there have been several faculty and staff members who have helped him to develop his passion for learning and achievement even further.

“Miss Zerger has been phenomenal,” said Max. “She is by far the best teacher I’ve ever had in my life. Ms. Kraus and Mr. Cleveland have also both helped me a lot since they are part of our National Honor Society faculty.”

Lessons of Leadership

Duncan with fellow cadet

From his experiences on the soccer field, leading campus organizations, serving as an XO, and striving for personal success, Max knows that he will take from St. John’s invaluable life lessons in leadership.

“All the lessons I’ve learned about leadership I’ve learned at St. John’s,” said Max.

According to Academic Dean Ginger Wooten, an understanding of the importance of leadership is something the school strives to instill in every cadet.

“At St. John’s, we’re all about teaching our cadets and students to be leaders,” said Wooten. “Even in our classrooms while we’re teaching math, reading, and writing we understand that it is even more important to teach our students to be cooperative, to work together, and to take on leadership roles when they can. I hope that through the academic and military lessons he has been exposed to, that Max will leave St. John’s with a true understanding of what it takes to be a great leader.”

Hearing Max speak about leadership, it is clear that he has already benefitted from the lessons of which Dean Wooten speaks.

“When I was on the soccer team at my old school, my friends looked up to me, but at St. John’s, I learned to understand what it means to have people you’re responsible for, people who look up to you and who depend on you. You could participate in JROTC in a public school, but that experience is for one hour per week. Here, there are people who always need you and who you’re leading, and that experience is amazing. I’ve also learned that you can’t view yourself as more important than others. I had that attitude for a while, but I realize now that as a person and as a leader you can’t treat others as less than you.”

Dean Wooten believes that Max’s exposure to so many leadership opportunities while at St. John’s has helped him gain the confidence needed to lead and inspire others.

“Max has come out of his shell since he’s been at St. John’s,” she said. “He immediately stepped into a leadership role on our campus. Today he seems less reserved and more willing to give his input. He has always been willing to assist others. He is a very good student and has a God-given talent, and he has always been willing to help others in many ways, especially academically where being a good student comes naturally to him.”

Helping to Guide Others on the Path to Greatness

While the decision to send their son away from home was a difficult one for Edward and Gabriele, it is a decision they have never regretted. According to Gabriele, for parents who want to give their child every opportunity, the decision to choose a St. John’s education is an easy one.

“When you have the opportunity to offer your son something better than he would be able to receive if he stayed at home, you need to put your son’s future ahead of your own desire to have him at home, no matter how hard it is to let him go. You have to let him thrive. Max was always strong academically but St. John’s has helped him develop into a man of character.”

Edward agreed, adding, “At St. John’s they focus on the bigger picture, which is that there is a whole young man to develop—his character, morality, camaraderie, the ability to overcome challenges and respect authority and lead others, and that’s the bottom line. St. John’s helped Max earn a spot in one of the best academies in the nation. We couldn’t be happier or prouder of our son.”