Lakeland grad standing tall

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 19, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Derek Hayes is one Lakeland High School graduate who knows where he’s headed in life, taking his first steps toward success even before he graduated this past May.

Today, U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Hayes believes he’s on the road to a successful, productive life.

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Hayes signed on with the Corps while still a student. He said he felt a strong desire to distinguish himself and to get one step ahead.

And while he had no money to go to college, he found out more about the USMC’s educational opportunity programs, including the Delayed Entry Program.

&uot;I began attending the monthly meetings while I was still in high school,&uot; said the 17-year-old. &uot;Then, when I graduated I joined the Corps and began assisting with recruiting at their Suffolk office.

&uot;I’m currently at Camp Geiger, N.C., and I will soon take part in training for service management. I’ll learn basic warehousing, packing and traffic to become specialized in those areas.&uot;

Hayes is excited about training for a future that will take him to places he would never be able to reach by remaining in Suffolk. He said he knew he had to take control of his life to get an education that would help him find and reach his potential.

&uot;With no way to continue my education, the Marine Corps was an excellent opportunity since they provide the financial means to continue my formal education,&uot; said Hayes. &uot;I have already become a person of greater strength and character and I’ve learned more about problem-solving and making good decisions, both of which will help me with my college performance.

&uot;Marines are taught how to approach a problem and how to solve it, and those skills can do nothing but enhance your entire life.&uot;

Staff Sgt. Kelvin A. Towe of the Suffolk Marine recruiting office, said from the time Hayes entered the Corps, the Marines provided educational opportunities that offer a clear path to the intellectual and career advancement that many people struggle to attain.

&uot;The Marine Corps encourages continuing education because it will make a person a better Marine,&uot; said Towe. &uot;Marine men and women are more confident and more successful as they progress in their careers.

&uot;I believe that Hayes will do extremely well as a Marine since he’s already exhibited the strength of mind, body and spirit that exemplifies the Corps.&uot;

Towe added that he saw the &uot;spark&uot; within Hayes the first time he encountered the young man.

&uot;He was a disciplined young man… clean-cut, and now that he’s out of boot camp; he’s a sharp looking Marine,&uot; said Towe. &uot;I knew that he would make a Marine of distinction.&uot;

Hayes added that he’s following a dream; one that he’s had for a long time, but couldn’t understand or recognize where he was to go in pursuit of that vision.

&uot;There was always a voice inside me telling me I could do more if I only had the opportunity,&uot; said Hayes. &uot;Now, my dream is becoming a reality and I find that it challenges me to go further.

&uot;I will always carry the pride of the Corps with me and no matter where it takes me, I know I want to become a leader instead of a follower. The Marines have given me the opportunity and courage to take up the challenge to pursue my dreams.&uot;

Away from his family for the first time in his life, Hayes said he doesn’t miss being home, even though he is devoted to his mother, Natalie Smith of Spruce Street.

&uot;The Marines keep you too busy to be homesick,&uot; said Hayes. &uot;I plan to keep busy pursuing my college courses.

&uot;I could retire from the Corps at age 37, and then I’d still have a lifetime ahead of me, God willing, to pursue a second career. I have given some thought to going into business once I retire, even though I could retire with my Marine retirement income.

&uot;I have so many choices in life now, and the Corps has made it all possible.&uot;

As for Hayes’ mother; she’s about to burst with pride in &uot;her Marine.&uot;

Grandmother Carrie Hayes, and his step-father, Gregory Smith, are also extremely grateful for the life Hayes has chosen.

&uot;Through the grace of God, we’ve seen Derek grow into a wonderful young man,&uot; said his mother. &uot;Being a mom is one of the toughest jobs there is, but I have totally depended on God, family and supportive friends to help Derek grow up well.

&uot;His step-father, Gregory Smith, also played a major role in Derek’s life. He was there from the time Derek was 4.

Smith added that she is pleased with her son’s decision to pursue a college education.

&uot;We had no means to send my son to college, but the Marines will prepare him for a very successful life and for that, I am extremely grateful,&uot; said Smith. &uot;I miss my son terribly, but this is one opportunity that I certainly wouldn’t have him miss.&uot;