By Lori Draz and Matthew Motola
Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month, our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents about a variety of topics. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry – let’s just get to sharing.
This month’s author is Cadet Lieutenant Commander Matthew Motola, a 17-year-old senior at Colts Neck High School. As we approach one of the most important elections in recent years and honor the sacrifices of brave veterans, the question of leadership is in the forefront. How are leaders made? What are the qualities of an effective leader? How can we learn and employ these lessons in our own lives? This month’s author has been developing and using his leadership skills from an early age. He accepts the discipline and compromise required to benefit not just his own goals, but the enrichment of his team. Here is Matthew’s story.
Ever since I was very young, I have always sought out activities where I could test and develop leadership. It started in the first grade when I joined Cub Scouts. There, I took my first steps in learning about leadership through activities like collecting food for the food pantry and various community cleanups. At the end of fifth grade, I crossed over into Boy Scout Troop 290 in Colts Neck. While a member of the troop, I further honed my leadership skills by taking on tasks like running numerous camping trips and flag retirement ceremonies, and collecting comfort items for troops deployed abroad. Ultimately, I earned the rank of Eagle Scout at the beginning of my freshman year of high school. The capstone of my scouting career was my Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project, where I led 33 volunteers for a total of 365 hours to refurbish the fitness trail at the Colts Neck Township Municipal Complex and install six benches around the complex’s lake.
At this time, I entered the Navy Junior ROTC unit at Colts Neck High School. In August, prior to entering high school, all new cadets complete Basic Leadership Training, where we learn uniform regulations, drill movements, and Navy history and terminology. Once school started, I joined the drill team, where I became a member of the Varsity Color Guard. I also immersed myself in the operation of our unit by becoming a Community Service Clerk.
I continued with the drill team in my sophomore year and earned a spot on the Varsity Exhibition Drill Team. I also became an Operations Clerk. As a junior, I took on even more responsibility by becoming the Assistant Operations Officer and I was honored that my dedication to the unit and leadership skills allowed me to become the highest ranking junior cadet.
Outside of the unit, I attended Rotary Youth Leadership Academy and Monmouth County Sheriff’s Youth Week during the summers. I also became a member of the National Honor Society. This past summer, I was selected as a delegate to the American Legion Jersey Boys State and I attended the Navy JROTC Area 4 Leadership Academy/Sail Training for two weeks in Newport, Rhode Island. The Leadership Academy curriculum consisted of interactive classes on leadership skills and how to apply them. Sail training was conducted in Rhodes 19 sail training craft and concluded with a regatta on Narragansett Bay.
In May, I became Commanding Officer of our 187-cadet unit, where I use my lifetime of leadership skills to lead every aspect of our unit from things like uniform inventory to personnel inspections. Right now, our unit is preparing for our Area Manager’s Inspection, where our Navy manager will inspect every detail and member of our unit.
To me, the most important lesson in leadership revolves around the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment. Just as a building must have structural integrity to stay intact, a leader must have moral integrity so he can set the example for his people. A leader must have courage to proceed with his plan if he knows it is right, despite fear of outside criticism. A leader must also stand up for his followers, no matter what the cost. Finally, a leader has the responsibility to relentlessly pursue the goals of the unit. The leader must be willing to give up everything if necessary to achieve success for the unit. While I am my unit’s leader, I am not above any member. I show up early every morning for drill practice. Afterwards, I conference with my cadet leaders prior to homeroom to discuss unit business and any problems or concerns. During my lunch period, all cadets, regardless of rank, are invited to talk with me about any issue. After school, I work with the cadet staff to accomplish routine unit tasks and provide leadership. I think the best way to become a good leader starts with seeking out a trusted mentor, who you can learn from. Then ask plenty of questions and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know all of the answers. Listen thoughtfully to your mentor’s answers, accept any constructive criticism they offer, and work hard to incorporate that into your life.
I’m writing this article just before the 2016 Presidential Election and have thoughtfully considered the definition of leadership and our precious right to vote. Leadership is very important, particularly in this election cycle as the nation does not have the option to remain with the status quo. Voters will elect an entirely new leader. While I don’t know the outcome of the election at the time of this writing, I only hope that those who voted on Election Day selected the candidate that they believe genuinely cares for this great nation and its people and would be willing to risk everything to protect our freedoms.