East Lyme student answers call to service
East Lyme - When high school senior Ehren Johnson rows on Pattagansett Lake during crew practice each afternoon, he's not thinking about himself. He's thinking about his team.
As the captain and stroke seat, he sets the pace for the synchronized movements that propel the boat through the water. His job is to lead by example, coach Ray Campbell said.
"He's incredibly disciplined and a tremendous leader," Campbell said.
As much as Johnson, 17, has contributed to the team - they recently won a bronze medal in the state championship - he said the endeavor has taught him focus, teamwork and leadership.
"You have to take all the problems of the day and throw them out when you get in the boat," Johnson said.
With his leadership skills, Johnson will enter the U.S. Naval Academy this summer. His course includes four years of study and five years of service. He plans to study aerospace engineering, with the goal of one day becoming a pilot.
Johnson said a path toward service gradually emerged through his experiences, though his parents, who each attended the Coast Guard Academy, also were influential in his decision.
During his four years of high school, Johnson said, he not only became more confident and outgoing as he engaged in school, but he also was drawn to the outside world and to how he could help.
"I feel like this school - particularly the teachers I have had - helped give me a wide perspective," said Johnson, who moved to East Lyme in fifth grade after having lived in Washington, Virginia and California. "The school has definitely given me a ton of opportunities."
A trip to Costa Rica during his sophomore year served as his "induction to the world of service," he said. During the volunteer trip, he would go onto the beach at night to move turtle eggs to a safer spot in hatcheries so they wouldn't be poached. He said he became more aware of the world around him, as he was struck with the simplicity of life there, with houses without electricity or running water, compared to his life in Connecticut.
He further became more interested in global issues - and more adept at public speaking - through a course in contemporary issues, where the class explored issues in Syria and Crimea. Johnson, who says he always has enjoyed history and learning about the world around him, also likes to read about past events through the characters in historical fiction.
His interest in calculus and engineering helped him delve into mechanics as an intern at Electric Boat. He worked on computer-aided drafting programs there and saw first-hand how submarines are built.
In addition to learning leadership and focus through the crew team, Johnson said he understood the value of persistence by playing the bass in the orchestra. He began in middle school, without ever having picked up an instrument before, and built up his skills so now he really enjoys playing.
"It taught me to stick things through to the end," he said.
As Johnson reflected on his decision to attend the Naval Academy, he said he feels it comes down to extending to others the same kind of help he would hope someone would give him.
"If I were in a situation of need, I would like someone to help me," he said. "I think it's somebody's responsibility to help out."
And while Johnson, who wears glasses, may need vision surgery to become a pilot, he said he is determined to see it through. As he prepares to graduate from high school later this month - on his 18th birthday - he said he will miss his friends and activities, but is looking forward to shaping his future.
"I'm excited to be able to make my own life choices," he said.
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