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CMA cadet receives Sheheen Junior Leadership award

Posted: April 30, 2018 4:12 p.m.
Updated: May 1, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Junior Leadership Steering Committee Chair Laurie Parks (Above) holds a special recognition plaque given to her for 18 years of service on the Junior Leadership Steering Committee. Parks, who has also served as the annual graduation banquet’s mistress of ceremonies for many years, has decided to step back from her role. Fellow steering committee member Ed Garrison, who is also stepping down, received a similar plaque recognizing his participation since the program’s inception 30 years ago in 1988.

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Yohann Offredo, a Camden Military Academy (CMA) senior cadet, is this year’s recipient of the Robert J. Sheheen Junior Leadership Outstanding Student Award. Former S.C. Speaker of the House Bob Sheheen, for whom the award is named, and Junior Leadership Chair Laurie Parks presented Yohann with the award during the program’s 30th annual graduation banquet Thursday night at the Robert Mills Courthouse.

Parks said Yohann received a record-setting 12 nominations before being voted on to become this year’s winner.

Yohann, a self-proclaimed extrovert, was also one the evening’s four student speakers. Each group of students participating in this year’s Junior Leadership sessions from the district’s public high schools -- Camden, Lugoff-Elgin and North Central -- and CMA chose a speaker for the evening from within their ranks.

During his speech, Yohann said Junior Leadership gave him information and skills with which to grow in addition to the “different high school experience” he has had at CMA.

“Leadership is observed daily in our lives, whether it’s from our parents, friends or celebrities. We all know it’s crucial and powerful,” he said. “Student leaders have the most influence on teens because student leaders are relatable.”

Yohann mentioned the “esprit de corps” at CMA that leads cadets to do the next required task.

“Esprit de corps is something greater than us that can be defined in many different ways,” he said, explaining that it brings the cadets together -- regardless of background -- to work toward a common goal.

He went on to relate how his first day of school was a shock after having been in public school.

“I gave up my electronics and I was constantly being yelled at by my classmates,” he said. “It did not take me long to understand why I was being yelled at for every small mistake I made, but I realized that they didn’t do it because they liked yelling at me -- they did it because they cared.”

Yohann said CMA student leaders like himself are like big brothers to the other cadets to be sought out for guidance.

“We are in our positions to motivate others to improve, not to turn them into soldiers,” he said. “The rank I’m wearing today means nothing outside of the school. ‘Cadet Lt. Col. Yohann’ … who cares? I’m wearing (this uniform) because it’s important to me. It shows that, even though I had a rough past, I am still going to make it and that’s all thanks to student leadership.”

He said he and his fellow Junior Leadership students were picked for their leadership skills in their community.

“I know that all of us will continue to be leaders no matter where we are because we are truly important to the people we are surrounded by. Junior Leadership and Camden Military Academy gave me the building bricks for my foundation. Now I’m off to college and I’ve gathered the bricks around me so, one day, I will soar,” Yohann concluded.

The evening’s other student speakers included Camden High School’s Sarah Heming, Lugoff-Elgin High School’s (L-EHS) Jacob Whisenhunt and North Central High School’s Laken Gross. Like Yohann, each student’s speech focused on “The Importance of Student Leadership.”

Two humorous moments came one after the other when Parks inadvertently skipped introducing Jacob in favor of Laken and had to be reminded to include the L-EHS student. Then, only a few moments into his speech, the power went out due to a storm. Parks used her cell phone to give Jacob light enough to read his speech. Almost as soon as he was done, the lights came back on.

Yohann, Sarah, Jacob and Laken also thanked Parks and fellow Junior Leadership steering committee member Ed Garrison for their 18 and 30 years, respectively, of service. At the beginning of the program, Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy Kinard, who also serves on the steering committee, announced Parks and Garrison are stepping off the committee and presented them with plaques of appreciation. Thursday’s graduation banquet served as their final Junior Leadership function.

S.C. State Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Tom Mullikin, who is a Camden attorney, served as the evening’s keynote speaker, giving a short, but enthusiastic speech.

“We sit only a few feet from where our freedom was won in this country,” Mullikin said, “where a group of militiamen gathered to take on the greatest army of the world. We live around greatness.”

Mullikin used those words as a bridge to thank his own mentors, including Sheheen, and then acknowledged that the students are what he called “young world leaders.”

“The one thing I can say is that … we need our young people to understand that they can be the best in the world. You do not get big by thinking small. ‘Big’ will not land in your lap by accident. Success is a steady climb,” Mullikin said.

He then revealed that he was born with a deformity of his feet -- at one point being told he might not ever walk -- and yet he has, literally, climbed some of the world’s highest mountains, scuba-dived and visited every continent, including Antarctica.

Mullikin also recalled graduation at Camden High School in 1978 and being told, “You can be the best, but you’re going to have to work for it.”

“You can be the next Andrew Jackson,” he encouraged the students. “You can be the next Francis Marion. You can be the next Bernard Baruch. And you can be the next Billy Graham. And you can do it coming from right here in Kershaw County. We have the best in the world.”

He then encouraged the students to find a mentor, like he had in Sheheen.

“I remember well the time when Bob was speaker -- the best speaker we’ve ever had -- when he was having difficulty with the attorney general. People would ask him, ‘What are you going to do, Mr. Speaker?’ And he would say, ‘Well, I’m going to go talk to him.’ ‘You’re not really going to go into his office?’ Imagine if we lived in a world, today, where people were bold enough to talk to people who felt differently. Imagine how much better things would be.”

Mullikin left the students with four characteristics he wanted them to develop in pursuit of being happy and successful: Be bold, be strong, be kind and be thoughtful.

The evening also included a video presentation of some of the activities in which this year’s class participated, including sessions on job market strategies, youth court, social and formal dining etiquette, personal finance, social issues and state government (which included a visit to the S.C. State House). Junior Leadership students also went on a showcase of schools, visiting each of the four high schools, and assisted with this year’s Special Olympics at CMA.

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