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Turlock student learns leadership with Marines
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Turlock High School junior Paige Peterson (far right) recently returned from a week-long stay aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, as part of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy.

Growing up, Turlock High School junior Paige Peterson remembers hearing countless stories about her uncle’s experience as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. Wanting to learn more, she decided on a whim to apply for a summer academy that would teach her the leadership and ethics found in the Corps.

To her surprise, Peterson was one of just 200 students chosen for the USMC’s Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy, which took place July 16-22.

“After finding out I was one of the 200 students accepted, I was definitely a little nervous because I’d be stepping out of my comfort zone,” Peterson said. “But underneath that, I was excited to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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Paige Peterson and campmate Jake Willsea participate in a leadership course.

Peterson recently returned from her week-long stay aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, where she was among a class of top-performing students from across the country who were hand selected to attend the academy. The program is designed to positively influence rising high school juniors and seniors to return them back to their communities more confident, selfless and better equipped to improve the lives of those around them. 

“The intent is to present our core values of honor, courage and commitment, while teaching and practicing concepts of leadership, ethics and service to others,” Col. Robert Goetz said, who is in charge of the academy.

Throughout her stay, Peterson conducted several physical fitness sessions, toured the National Mall in the District of Columbia, visited the Holocaust Museum, the National Museum of the Marine Corps and more. She learned Marine Corps martial arts techniques and ethics, and experienced Maine Barracks Washington’s Sunset Parade featuring the Iconic Silent Drill Platoon and the Commandment’s Own Drum & Bugle Corps.

While there was plenty of sightseeing to do and special moments to remember, Peterson’s favorite memory from the camp was when she and her platoon spent the day cleaning up the beach in the town of Quantico.

“One of the principles of the Marine Corps is giving back to the community,” she said. “Working with the other students to fix up the beach, I gained an understanding of the difference each of us is capable of making in improving our communities.”

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Paige Peterson (second from left) listens intently as her Platoon Staff Sergeant briefs her group on the day’s events.

The academy also exposed the students to the culture of the Corps; they participated in several leadership and character development classes that were oriented around Marine Corps leadership and ethics, based on knowledge passed down from one generation of military leaders to the next. Guest speakers shared their knowledge in classroom settings as well. They also visited Officer Candidates School, where attendees maneuvered across an obstacle course and learned about what it takes to become a Marine officer.

“The most important thing I learned at SLCDA is to take into account the situations of others,” Peterson said. “Leadership is not based on singular acts, but rather a team’s cohesiveness and a leader’s ability to develop a team’s cohesiveness through the situations of the team’s individuals.”

As a student at THS, Peterson is the proud owner of the Stanislaus County Office of Education’s Multi-lingual Seal of Proficiency and she was involved in both Link Crew and the THS School Site Council. She plays basketball for the Bulldogs and has also kept a steady job at Cipponeri’s Fruit Stand during her high school career, but after high school she plans to attend a four-year university and seek a profession in International Relations, rather than join the Marines.

“In terms of my future, I truly feel as though this camp has shown me how important confidence, self-assurance, ethics and accountability are in relation to leadership,” Peterson said.