By Mr. Brian Lepley (Presidio)May 30, 2018
Two setbacks will not deter Sydney Johnson.
Home field advantage almost paid off for the Presidio of Monterey's 2018 Military Youth of the Year at the California competition, staged at the Weckerling Center here April 25. She was a consensus second-place finisher to Paola Basaca of Travis Air Force Base.
It won't be Johnson's first or last crack at the state title. The daughter of retired Staff Sgt. Steven and Sharmaine Johnson was the Presidio's 2016 representative and the Seaside High School junior will be back next year.
"Mostly exhilarating but nerve wracking as well," she said of her April 25 experience. "It's a competition and they're all talented teens so whoever wins it deserves it.
"It's a growing experience so I can look at what I've done and fix what I need to fix to come back at it better and with more passion."
Back in March, Sydney bested Katherine Gerot, daughter of Maj. Jeremy and Janneane Gerot, and Fabio Saouma, whose parents are Adel Saouma and Georgette Kassis, Arabic instructors at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, to represent the Presidio at the state level.
"All of the candidates were very strong and had put in a lot of thought into their applications," said Lt. Col. Valarie Long, 517th Training Wing deputy commander. "Ms. Johnson's poise and confidence stood out, as well as her message on diversity."
Joining Long on the judging panel for Presidio of Monterey's 2018 Military Youth of the Year were Shawn Benjamin, Presidio of Monterey Fire Department, and Joe Quilenderino, Presidio of Monterey Police Department.
Johnson sees competing in these events as an opportunity to support issues important to her generation.
"Teaching our students and kids from an early age to advocate and to know their rights, how to vote, the importance of it, and why their voice matters is my passion," she said. "I believe, personally, that military youth are some of the most resilient people -- having to adapt to pressure, change and constant moving."
Long's experience with the Presidio competition gave her an appreciation for the installation's youth program.
"I believe it really helps young people prepare to for college and beyond … the coaching, mentoring and support they get as they prepare is what really makes this program great," she said. "All of the candidates will be able to take that away and apply it to the things they do in the future."
Johnson's disappointment was evident April 25, as evident as her adaptability, resilience and focus on her future.
"Because we're all military youth we all know how it feels, what we represent and what we want to accomplish," she said. "That resonates with all of us. Humility is an important thing to learn. I lost but I can accept it."