“They’ve helped me make most of my life decisions,” she said.
She will tell you that joining showed her how to use leadership abilities she never knew she had. The program helped her overcome shyness and taught her organizational skills. Dunlap’s ROTC instructors tutored her throughout high school, helping her gain higher Advanced Placement calculus test scores than anyone else at Cross Creek.
And, above all, her experiences in drill teams and working with fellow ROTC members led Dunlap to enlist in the Navy.
“They pushed me to be better at whatever I put my mind to. School grades, drill team, life goals … everything. My ROTC instructors helped me every step of the way,” Alexis said. “I’m prepared now to go where I want to in life. I know I can go into the military and do well, no matter what I end up doing.”
That’s why Alexis wanted Navy ROTC Commander Johnathan Shaw to present her diploma as she walked across the James Brown Arena stage Tuesday. Someone who had a great deal of influence in her life should be the one to present her the symbol of her high school achievements, Alexis said.
“When I was frustrated or upset, they would help me get a grip on things,” Alexis said. “They are all very special to me.”
But, like many times during her high school career, Shaw and Alexis’ family members knew she could do better.
So when Alexis prepared to walk into adulthood, Shaw brought along a special guest: Dunlap’s 24-year-old sister - Petty Officer 3rd Class Kierra Dunlap, just home from Navy deployment to the Middle East.
Kierra and Shaw organized the visit in secret, hoping to make the day truly special. And as the crowd exploded in cheers when Kierra walked on stage with a bouquet of flowers and Alexis covered her face while shedding tears, it was obvious the pair succeeded.
“I wanted to surprise my sister. I wanted to do something nice for her,” Kierra said. “It was such an emotional experience for me. ... It was a YouTube moment. I’m very proud of her.”
As the two sisters walked together, some teachers and ROTC members shed tears of their own.
After the ceremony, Alexis recalled the overwhelming emotion she felt when she saw her sister onstage.
“I still can’t even explain it,” Alexis said. “I was surprised and then I was crying. I thought she would have to miss it. It was just a surprise to me.”