On May 22, 612 Auburn High seniors will grad uate. Some will immediately enter the work force, and some will start packing their bags for college.
For senior Cammy Smith, who has lived in the same house since she was born, the future awaits in West Point, New York. Smith will begin her military career by representing Auburn at the United States Military Academy starting in early July.
When Smith found out she had been accepted into the prestigious academy earlier this year, she was speechless.
"That never happens; I'm always talking," she said, smiling at the memory. "I couldn't say anything, I was so happy. It was a good day."
If you had asked her if she wanted to attend West Point back in the spring or early fall of last year, she would have likely said no.
It wasn't until Lt. Col. Anthony Benitez, AHS Junior ROTC instructor, and Smith's mom, Sheryl, gave her a nudge that she decided to consider West Point. A visit to the military academy's campus last September closed the deal.
"That's what changed my mind, and I was like, 'This is where I want to be,' " Smith said. "I got to be there for a weekend, follow around another cadet and go to their classes and sleep in their dorms. I got to meet other people from different states, different countries. It was a really nice experience."
Smith will move in on campus in late June, and Benitez has walked her through what to expect the first six weeks during training.
"She's going to wake up, do something that's going to challenge her that day; she's going to go to sleep and do that all over again," he said. "The first six weeks, that's really where you see the majority of the cadets fall away.
"But Cammy, she's going to do a great job. I see her being in a leadership role there at the academy, just like she is here."
Benitez said he has watched Smith grow during her three years in Junior ROTC — a class she only signed up for as a sophomore because she needed a Physical Education credit. He said she has assumed a leadership position among her peers.
"She is all about being a leader. Seeing her in front of a group of people, you can just tell she has that acumen," he said. "She's not intimidated, and I think that's really going to serve her well."
Smith isn't blind to her progress, either.
"I've learned basic military terms (in JROTC), and I've also just gotten more opportunities to speak," she said, adding that public speaking has helped build her confidence. "I've also enjoyed it because I've gotten to meet a whole bunch of new people. I've become a more confident person, and it's taught me a lot about myself.
"And it's all because I needed that PE credit."
In going to West Point, Smith is dedicating herself to four years of academic study and training, five years of active duty and three years in the Individual Ready Reserve. In some ways she is following in her father's footsteps.
Her dad, Auburn City Schools Board of Education Vice President Charles Smith, is a Purple Heart recipient for Military Merit who served in Iraq. Smith said her dad has helped her understand military terms and talked to her about what pursuing a military career may entail.
"Most military kids, you kind of dress up in (your parents') uniforms when you're younger, and that's what I did," she said. "He's been through something similar, so I can kind of lean on him to help me. He's been very influential."
Smith also said she looks up to her mom and her older brother, Justin.
"(My mom) is the reason why I'm so involved," said Smith, who volunteers as a Tiger Ambassador, runs track, was a student member of the ACS strategic planning committee and is involved with Science Olympiad and the International Baccalaureate program. "She put me in all these clubs and sports as a kid, trying to see what I liked and what I hated and wanted me to get those experiences ... She is always going to be there to support me."
Cammy has been watching videos and doing her research about what to expect at West Point, both academically and physically. She admits to being a little nervous, but she is excited to represent Auburn.
"There's pressure obviously, but it feels good," she said. "I want to say I want to just conquer it and get it over with, but that's not me. Sometimes I'm like, 'Yeah, I can do this!' and sometimes I'm like, 'Give me a couple of minutes.'
"I have a quick erasive memory, so once it's done, I get over it and move on to the next thing, so that's probably the thing that's going to help me get through the first six weeks."
As she prepares to graduate and start a military career, Smith offered some advice for incoming freshmen — enjoy high school before its over.
"The rifle coach here at Auburn High told me that the days are long, but the years are short, or that's what it feels like," she said. "I agree with that. It feels like it passed very quickly, so just enjoy it because you're not going to get your freshman and sophomore years back."
She also encourages students to get involved in clubs and extracurricular activities and to volunteer.
"See where it takes you," she said.
Benitez said he feels Smith found a home in JROTC, in which about 120 students are involved, and he is looking forward to visiting West Point in four years to watch her graduate.
"She's just an example of what three years in the program can be and what the end result can be if it's something you aspire to," he said. "Our job is to guide you and get you there; Cammy is a perfect example of that. It's been a pleasure working with her. I know that I'm going to get an invitation in four years to go see her graduate. I'm certain that she's going to make it through."