Maturity, Mentoring Bring High Rank and High Grades
Dr. Laura Kenny is a single mother of five who realized that her middle son, Ryan, needed structure as he approached high school in ways that her other two sons didn’t.
She and Ryan – a “guy’s guy,” mom says – found both that structure and strong male role models at St. John’s Military School, which had been suggested by a friend whose son attended another military school.
“I had three schools I was going to visit, and St. John’s just happened to be the first one,” says Kenny, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Overland Park, Kan. “Ryan loved it. I think it was the guy thing. When he saw the gym he was like, ‘Wow.’ There was paintball. There were all these guys lifting weights and all this guy stuff. When we went on the tour, he wanted to stay. So I didn’t even visit the other two schools I was originally going to visit.”
Kenny had realized that the “crazy schedule” of her medical profession made it challenging to meet some of Ryan’s needs. The campus visit as well as earlier research – she learned St. John’s was deemed one of the top private military schools in Business Week magazine – helped set her mind at ease about selecting the school. Still, “it was a difficult decision, to think about sending your 14-year-old son away to boarding school,” she recalls.
Guiding that decision, though, was her belief in providing her children what they need to succeed, and concern about what would happen to Ryan if she didn’t.
“My goal really for all my kids has been to give them the tools that they need to succeed in life, to support themselves, and make a contribution to their community,” Kenny says. “I was concerned that if Ryan didn’t get on the right path in high school, that he would close a lot of doors, which would prevent him from getting to where he needed to be later in life.”
One Active Cadet
Now, more than four years later, it’s evident that Ryan found a lot of doors to open at St. John’s.
He played football for three years and basketball as well, “but his main interest was drill team,” his mother says, and he wanted to be the “best driller ever.” By senior year, Ryan had earned the rank of command sergeant major, the third highest ranking cadet.
A musician, he was in the drum corps and founded, played guitar and sang in the school’s praise band. Now, having graduated, Ryan is weighing his college choices, and Salina’s Kansas Wesleyan College is among the options, as it would allow him to keep involved with the praise band on some level, play football and maintain the strong contacts he formed at St. John’s.
At the school, Ryan found mentors in Andy England, St. John’s president, Commandant of Cadets Maj. George Stelljes, Capt. Michael Reid and Sgt. Mark Giles.
“Ryan is the kind of guy that functions best with a lot of structure. These are the rules. You’re held to the rules. You’re held accountable. There are consequences if you don’t do what you’re supposed to. He functions pretty well in that environment,” Kenny says.
Success Didn’t Come Simply
Reaching the point where Ryan performed up to his ability took time, and attention. Things didn’t really click until near the end of Ryan’s junior year. Top performance as a senior came after a middling freshman year and sophomore and junior years. His mother recalls Ginger Wooten, dean of students, reassuring her to “just hang in there.”
“And they were right,” she says. “He did finally mature and turn it around.” In the third quarter of his senior year, he earned Blue Beret status, signifying one of the highest grade point averages at the school. Cadet Lynch in fact finished his senior year as the school’s best academic performer.
“When he first started St. John’s he told me, ‘I’m going to play football, and I’m going to be the drill team commander, and I’m going to be an officer sitting at the table at graduation.’ The whole time he was there I was thinking, ‘Oh, yeah.’ By senior year he did everything he said he was going to do.”
Grades weren’t Ryan’s only stumbling blocks during his four years at St. John’s. He got into trouble during his sophomore and junior years. “During that time, to Andy England’s credit, he knew what Ryan was doing all the time. Andy sat down with him almost daily and talked to him. Ryan needed a strong male mentor, and Andy England did that,” Kenny says.
“And Ryan, I think, eventually decided, ‘I love St. John’s. I want to be here, and I don’t want to get kicked out, and I’m going to do what it takes,’ He totally turned it around,” she says.
A Good Investment for the Future
In college, Ryan would like to study something related to music, such as working in a studio, mixing or engineering, his mother says.
“His original plan, now, right out of high school is to get into college, get the basics under his belt the first couple of years, and then try to sort that out further,” she says. “But he does have a lot of interest in the music industry, if he can’t be an NFL football player that is.”
Over the summer, having taken a graduation trip to Colorado with several of his St. John’s buddies, Ryan works at a theater back home in Overland Park.
“He’s really in a good place right now,” Kenny says. “He’s working. He doesn’t give me a bit of trouble. He helps at home. He actually did his laundry the other day; I about fainted.”
“He really has turned it around,” she continues. “The folks at St. John’s absolutely want these guys to succeed. They just hung with this kid the whole time, and it worked.”
The time, energy and care that the school’s faculty and staff invested in her son made her investment in his education a good one.
“It was a sacrifice. I could have done other things with the money” that sent Ryan to St. John’s,” she says. “But it was well worth it. Because I think if I hadn’t sent him to St. John’s, I would be making a much bigger investment now trying to keep Ryan on track. St. John’s gave him the tools, the direction and the self-confidence that he needed to really get out there and succeed.”