Thomas Harring entered his freshman year at Leto High School as a self-proclaimed bad boy. • He didn't care about homework or grades, he refused to listen to his teachers or even stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. By sophomore year he was failing. His grade-point average hovered at 0.7. Suspensions were a common occurrence. • In return, many people gave up on him. He heard over and over again that he would never amount to anything. • Then, he watched as one of his best friends dropped out of school and slid further down the wrong path. And it hit him. That was exactly where he was headed, too. • Fast-forward to today and much has changed.
On Friday, the 19-year-old will graduate with a 2.6 GPA. He is headed to Marine Corps boot camp in the fall.
And he owes it all to the school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
"When I got into the JROTC is when I started having respect for others and doing well in school," he said.
The turnaround garnered attention — this time positive.
"It feels good," he said. "I went from being the person people looked at and called an idiot, a dum-dum, a bad kid to that smart kid."
He hopes to become a scout sniper in the Marines and enroll in college. He thinks criminal justice might be his calling once he retires from the Marines.
His JROTC commander, Larry L. Jordan, has witnessed the success first hand.
"He went from a kid who refused to stand and say the pledge to a kid who I'm very proud of," Jordan, who is retired from the Navy, said. "He is just a complete turnaround."
Thomas' mother watched the transformation, too.
As a freshman "he started hanging with lots of boys from the wrong crowd. He didn't want to come home and was hanging out late at night," Dixa Teters said.
But she needed him to step it up at home, where there hadn't been a father figure in years, she said. As one of five children and the oldest boy, she hoped he would fill in as the man around the house.
And he did.
"He got into the JROTC, cut his hair and became a man," she said. "It gave him that structure, they are strict and I think that's what he needed.
"I'm proud of him. I want to see him go far."
This summer, he plans to work out daily in preparation for boot camp. He knows it will be hard. He has spoken to people who have been through it. But if he learned anything in high school, it is to believe in himself.
"I'm starting to think I can do this," he said.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.