Aléna Jarvis grins when she talks about her weekends. The hours spent shining the black surface of her military dress shoes into a reflective luster like that of glass is evidence of just how dull her life is, she says.
But that is the young lady's humble perception.
A senior at Battle Ground High School, Aléna Jarvis is this year's recipient of the General George C. Marshall Youth Leadership award. Established by the Fort Vancouver National Trust in 2000 to honor the nation's Nobel Peace Prize winning Secretary of State and Chief of Staff to the U.S. Army during World War II who prior to that served as Brigadier General and Commander of the 5th Infantry Brigade at Fort Vancouver Barracks, the award is presented to a Clark County high school senior who demonstrates leadership, takes a stand for the rights of others, serves as a role model, shows initiative and motivates others to become involved. Aléna rose to the top of a list of 37 students nominated from every high school in the county to win the award last week.
In short, it's a big deal. And it helps to explain the amount of effort Aléna puts into shining her dress shoes. She doesn't spend hours at the task because her life is dull, but because she approaches shoe shining with every bit of care and pride that she devotes to every thing she does. "Aléna is among the single most determined high school students I have known," said Brian Mathieson, a BGHS school counselor. "She is determined to be and do her best."
Aléna Jarvis is anything but dull.
The shoes that she so painstakingly shines complete the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) uniform she wears as a member of the drill team and a former corps commander of the group at BGHS. Aléna also has shoes for performances when she is on stage with the BGHS wind ensemble and band and athletic shoes for games as a starter on the varsity girls basketball team. And as if her school commitments aren't enough to fill her family's calendar, Aléna volunteers at the Veterans Association hospital in Vancouver. "I need to do something so my life matters," Aléna said. She added, "I want to make sure I do a really good job, which means putting my nose to the grindstone and getting stuff done. It's all fun and games, but at the end of the day you have to get stuff done."
"Cadet Lt. Col. Aléna Jarvis is our number one cadet in the Battle Ground High School Air Force JROTC program," said Colonel Brian Brown, who retired last year as the AF JROTC senior instructor at BGHS. "She leads the team with the highest ethics, morals, courage, teamwork and dedication."
Aléna said, "Learning from mistakes and working as a team is what I strive for as a leader."
The reason Aléna is so motivated to do her best and make a difference is incredibly simple and simultaneously nothing short of amazing. Aléna, who was born in a country where children are often deserted as infants, was given the chance to live life in a Democratic country with loving parents when Roger and Catherine Jarvis visited a Kazakhstan orphanage on Sept. 11, 2001, seeking to adopt her.
Aléna doesn't remember the turmoil her parents found themselves in on that infamous day in recent U.S. history, but she knows that they networked diligently to shorten a normally month-long process into the span of a few days so that they could safely return to the U.S. with their new child. As people who spent their lives in government service, Aléna's parents were not strangers to political adversity.
In fact, it's her parents sense of patriotism and knowledge of careers in the intelligence field that piqued Aléna's interest in the military, but it's her own appreciation for the discipline, common goals, uniformity and camaraderie of the armed services, as well as her desire to lead by example that has her wanting to go into the military and then follow it up with a career in the State Department. She has an interest in signals intelligence, which is analyzing electronic data and information (such as photographs and voice communications) gathered and intercepted during surveillance to provide critical security information to policy makers and the armed forces.
"My parents taught me that you've got to work hard. I need to work as hard as I can because that is what is going to set me up for my future."
The Youth Leadership Award comes with a $2,500 college scholarship and a paid summer internship in the Vancouver Trust’s Celebrate Freedom office. Aléna also will have the opportunity to meet with local elected representatives and to participate in Celebrate Freedom events such as Independence Day and the Veterans Parade at Fort Vancouver.
Aléna would like to use the scholarship to study political science and international relations at Oregon State University, Texas Christian University, The Citadel or another institution. After college, she has her sights set on shining her shoes for a role as an intelligence officer in the Air Force.