Roysha Rowland remembers her mother suggesting for years that she join the U.S. military after high school. Roysha resisted the message, practically turning a deaf ear to the idea, until starting 11th grade.

Having reached a tipping point by then, the message sank in, and she joined the Army ROTC program as a cadet.  Her grades have soared ever since. Now, she will become one of only six students in this year’s graduating class from Nathaniel Narbonne High School to join the U.S. military. She said she’s proud of being one of the few.

“To me, being in ROTC changes you,” she said. “The instructors teach you about preparing for the future, and it just means a lot to me.”

Five days a week, Roysha participates in the ROTC program during second period in her class schedule. She enjoys the drills, the uniform, and even the mile-long run, situps and pushups. She says being in the program has bolstered her leadership skills and brings out her best.

“I think it’s the guidance, and positive energy I’m around,” she said. “When I’m at school, it’s ROTC that pushes me. It’s the energy. If I have a problem, I can talk to my teacher, he’ll give me advice, and that motivates me. The other ROTC students push me, too.”

Lt. Juanito Nepomuceno, who retired from the U.S. Navy after 26 years of service, is now an instructor in Narbonne’s ROTC program.

“She is very respectful, and a real leader,” he said of Cadet Rowland.

This summer, she will attend boot camp in Missouri and, after several months, will train to become a combat engineer. In that role, she will put up buildings or barricades and detect booby traps in combat zones. Lt. Nepomuceno said he has never taught anyone pursuing such missions, which of course, are not for the faint of heart.

Whether or not the military becomes a lifelong career, Roysha has no intention of ever working a desk job, which she calls “boring.” Rather, she said, “I like to go out and do stuff.”

Roysha said that receiving her diploma on stage during graduation will be a first for her family. She is the second oldest of six, who came to the U.S. from Belize as a toddler. The family plans to visit their native land this summer for the first time since leaving the coastal country years ago. There she will be reunited with her grandfather and plenty of aunts and uncles.

She hails from a family of registered nurses and caregivers, whom she described as being successful in their own right. Instead of following their footsteps, though, she said she has created her own adventurous path. She is ready to leave behind home and high school for now. It is a step that she believes will make her more independent and bear more responsibility.

“I feel confident,” Roysha said. “I know if there’s a time when I don’t feel good enough, my family supports me 100 percent.”

Roysha said her mother, who has always been a rock of support, is proud of her choice.

“She has always encouraged me to join the military since eighth grade,” she said. “She told me how it could make me a better person and gain respect.”

It appears in this case – as in so many others – that mother knows best after all.