With only a few dollars to his name, Cadet Derrick Sumner, of Pittsburg, battled homelessness coming into his freshman year of college. On Friday, he’ll be commissioned as a second lieutenant alongside eight fellow cadets and will have completed his bachelor's degree in psychology. And next month, he’ll be recognized in a national ceremony.
"He’s a prime example of someone who succeeded against all odds," said 1st Lt. Taylor Wiebe, assistant professor of military science at Pittsburg State University. "Not too many people can say they have a 600 on their Army Physical Fitness Test or ruck a 12-mile under two hours. People tend to see Sumner as someone with a lot of natural ability. But when you look closer, you can see the only thing separating him from his peers is his drive for success."
Sumner said he was drawn to ROTC because he understood that cadets gained strong leadership abilities, and because he felt his values matched that of what was needed for an Army officer.
"I wanted to be in an organization where things that I do can change the lives of more than just those around me," he said.
When he joined the program, he felt so flustered, he said, that he didn’t know if he was supposed to salute a sergeant, let alone take charge. By his senior year, Sumner was leading the program as the cadet commander of the Gorilla Battalion.
He took every opportunity to develop mental agility, leadership skills, and physical fitness, including finishing the Range Challenge — a 25-mile ruck, obstacle course, and technical activities — all four years. He competed for the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge, ran and rucked in the Bataan Memorial Death March three times, and consistently earned perfect scores on the APFT.
During his summers, he attended Cadet Basic Camp, Airborne School, and completed advanced camp with the highest score possible. He volunteered in the community in his free time, and pushed himself more academically than he had previously, finishing with a 3.7 — a full letter grade higher than high school.
His work paid off: he was chosen as the cadet battalion commander, a Distinguished Military Graduate, and the winner of the national George C. Marshal Award. And, he was nominated for Homecoming King; riding in the parade down Broadway in an armored personnel carrier ranks among his top memories.
"I am so proud to say I was part of the Pitt State ROTC Battalion and I will hold on to the memories I have made here throughout my life," he said.
At 1:30 p.m. on June 12 — the U.S. Army’s birthday — he’ll take part in the National ROTC Commissioning Ceremony, to be conducted virtually. He’ll be commissioning as an active duty quartermaster officer and will attend Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Jared Page, of Hutchison, Kansas, will join him in the national ceremony. Page will graduate with his degree in exercise science and will be commissioning as an active duty infantry officer. He’ll attend BOLC at Fort Benning, Georgia.
At 10 a.m. this Friday, they'll be among nine new second lieutenants to be commissioned by Pittsburg State ROTC in a virtual ceremony streamed on the ROTC Facebook page at @PSUROTC.
Other cadets to be commissioned as second lieutenants Friday:
– Zaw Aung, a plastics engineering technology major and a native of Myanmar who was raised in Pittsburg. He’ll be commissioning into the medical services branch of the Illinois National Guard and will attend BOLC at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
– Autumn Crist, a psychology major from Webb City, Missouri, who will commission into the medical service branch of the Kansas National Guard and will attend BOLC at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
– Justice Hylton, a physical education major from Carl Junction, Missouri, and a Distinguished Military Graduate ranking in the top 10 percent of cadets nationwide in his class. He’ll be commissioning into the Aviation Branch of the Oklahoma National Guard and will attend BOLC at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
– Johnathan Gonzalez, a nursing major from Goshen, Indiana, will be commissioning into the Active Duty Nurse Corp and will attend BOLC at Fort Sam Houston.
– Ethan Jewell, a history major from Pittsburg and a Distinguished Military Graduate ranking in the top 10 percent of cadets nationwide in his class, will be commissioning as an active duty infantry second lieutenant and will attend BOLC at Fort Benning, Georgia.
– Brody Russell, a plastics engineering technology major from Osawatomie, Kansas, will be commissioning into the Kansas National Guard as a transportation officer and will attend BOLC at Fort Lee, Virginia.
– Skylar Schupbach, a business management major from Girard, Kansas, will be commissioning into the Kansas National Guard as an armor officer and will attend BOLC at Fort Benning, Georgia.