Brotherhood. It’s a word often used to describe the culture and ideology of St. John’s Military School, but perhaps it’s a word that’s never been more relevant than when used to describe the 129th Corps of Cadets.
“Thanks to the St. John’s brotherhood. I learned the importance of being responsible for yourself and for others around you.”Daniel Wei
This year’s 22 graduating seniors have proven, time and again, just how much they value, trust, and support the brotherhood they’ve found during their years at St. John’s. Now, as all 22 young men move on with confidence and poise to the next chapter in their lives, they look back at their time at St. John’s, and what they’ve learned and how it’s shaped not only the men they have become, but the type of accountable and trustworthy leaders they will continue to be.
Daniel Wei, valedictorian of the 129th Corps of Cadets and Headquarters Company Commander, is humble when he speaks about his achievements and the accomplishments of his fellow cadets.
“Being named valedictorian is an honor, but I don’t feel like I deserve it,” said Daniel with modesty in his voice. “There are so many smart, accomplished kids at St. John’s who deserve it more than me. We’re such a close-knit group, and I know them all so well, it’s hard to feel like I’ve achieved anything greater than they have.”
Daniel first arrived at St. John’s as a sophomore. He and his family were faced with the choice for Daniel to either continue his education in the public school system, or take the opportunity to enroll in St. John’s. Daniel’s parents ultimately allowed him to make the decision. That decision for him, came down to a desire to set himself on a path for success that he felt he would not have found had he remained at his public school.
“I wanted to change my life,” remembers Daniel. “I chose to go to St. John’s. If I had the opportunity to advise any other high school kids who had to make the same decision that I did, I’d ask them one question. ‘Do you want to better yourself, or not?’ That’s what it comes down to, and what it came down to for me.”
For Daniel’s parents, HuiRu Ding and Zongying Wei, the decision to send Daniel to a boarding school away from home challenged them to put an unfamiliar distance between them and their child. Yet, after only a few weeks, the changes they were starting to see in Daniel reaffirmed that he had made the right choice.
“When we sent Daniel to St. John’s, we realized that our son would be far from home,” said HuiRu and Zongying. “During the first six weeks, during the new boy period, we were worried, but after those weeks past, we received a letter from Daniel describing his life during the new boy training. He clearly expressed his confidence in his decision, and promised us that he would do his best to become a brave, and strong young man. Reading his letter, we realized that our son had already started to change, and that St. John’s had opened a door for him.”
While the 129th Corps of Cadets is full of stories of individual success, like that of Daniel Wei, Battalion Executive Officer Reece Turner, and Battalion Commander Justin Gilbert, one of the most impressive accomplishments among this year’s graduating class, is one that was achieved not as individuals, but as a brotherhood.
This year’s cadets and their instructors earned a perfect score on the JROTC Program for Accreditation (JPA).
“Earning a 100 percent on the JPA is extremely rare,” said Commandant of Cadets at St. John’s Major George Stelljes. “To earn a perfect score, each individual cadet had to be prepared and give their best effort. What was so impressive was the way the cadets came together to prepare, and how the battalion leaders stepped up. It’s that personal responsibility, that accountability, and that commitment that sets St. John’s apart, and that sets this year’s corps of cadets apart. They are truly a brotherhood.”
That word again, brotherhood, was echoed by Daniel Wei when asked about the lessons he learned during his time at St. John’s.
“Thanks to the St. John’s brotherhood,” said Daniel. “I learned the importance of being responsible for yourself and for others around you. You’re surrounded by cadets all the time. They’re your brothers in so many ways, but we all have to do our own duty toward the whole group. As Company Commander, I learned to be patient, and to be responsible for my own actions. I had to learn that if I fail to do my job, it impacts my whole company, and they have to do the same for me. I also learned that if you feel you can’t do something by yourself it’s okay to ask for help. The faculty and staff at St John’s are always there to support us and help us.”
For Daniel’s parents, Daniel’s growth and maturity is evident as they watch him prepare for college at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a path that Daniel plans to eventually follow into service in the armed forces.
“During his time at St. John’s Military School, Daniel committed to adjusting his behavior and changing his attitudes toward life,” said HuiRu and Zongying. “The structured military environment helped him to find himself. He learned self-discipline. He got motivated to change and grow. He learned how to communicate with others and deal with problems in his position as Company Commander. Being recognized with each individual show of progress gave him a feeling of accomplishment. He increased his self-confidence and self-worth. He is in the best shape in his life now. We hope that Daniel can keep what he has learned from St. John’s, continue to work hard, and finish his college education, and make his dreams come true in the future.”
For Major Stelljes, and the faculty and staff who remain behind to help prepare the world’s next generation of leaders, while seeing such an accomplished corps of cadets leave means saying goodbye to respected young men, he’s confident that they will only continue to achieve the highest levels of success.
“My hope for this year’s graduating corps of cadets is that they all reach their potential,” said Stelljes. “That’s what we try to do at St. John’s. We guide and mentor the cadets so that they reach their full potential, no matter what it is.”
The 129th Corps of Cadets leaves a legacy and reputation of excellence behind them, they walk away with lessons in leadership they will carry into college and the workplace, and a foundation of discipline and accountability that will help them succeed, no matter the path they choose.
“I would’ve never been valedictorian or succeeded in my life if it wasn’t for St. John’s and the people around me,” says Daniel Wei with a smile as he turns his attention to the future that lays ahead.