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Politics and Government

U.S. rear admiral talks leadership, resilience to Syracuse high school students

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Okon speaks with students at the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler High School in Syracuse.

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Okon, who is originally from central New York, spoke to students at the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler High School in Syracuse last week. Okon emphasized the qualities of leadership and resilience.

Okon met with seniors in the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Course and he asked the students why they joined the program. Some of them were failing their classes at other schools and they credit the program with giving them more structure and teaching them about leadership. Okon told them leadership is about influence and the ability to build lives and help others.

“The things that this leadership academy and this ROTC unit are doing for you, the single most important thing it will do is make you a better person," Okon said. "Make you kinder, more compassionate, more humble, more forgiving.”

Okon talked about his past. He’s living in south Mississippi but was born and raised in Syracuse. Both of his parents were factory workers and he joined the Navy because he had family members who served.

He told the students they need to be resilient. He said when he was in high school, his guidance counselor told him not to go to college because he would never graduate.

“So what did I do?" Okon asked. "I tightened down my shoes. I tightened down my belt. I picked myself up. I didn’t believe him. I went to college and I tried to build a better life for my family.”

Okon said he had a similar path as many of the students have now and he said they could one day turn out like him, an admiral in the U.S. Navy.

"Those opportunities exist for you," Okon said. "But the one thing that we absolutely hold true, no matter what uniform you where, when you're talking about serving your country, it's about the excellence and fair treatment of all, regardless of race, religion, creed, upbringing."