Oyster Bay High School’s Kevin Duke spent his senior year knowing his career path. The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in September granted Duke a full four-year scholarship to attend North Carolina State University that requires him to serve in the U.S. Navy for at least five years after graduation.

That prospect impacted how he approached the school year and it was something he reflected on during prom festivities at Woodbury Country Club on Thursday.

“Since I knew from the start of the year that I’m going into the ROTC, I guess it kind of hit me earlier than everyone else that we only have a year left together and we’ll be going away next year,” Duke said. “So I wanted to make the most of every class and every sports season.”

As a senior, Duke was vice president of the National Honor Society and he participated in the Science National Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society and Student Athlete Leadership Program, in which he taught character building and conflict resolution.

Also, he and the school’s varsity basketball team repeated as county champions this year.

Now Duke will walk in the government-issued shoes of his relatives. His father enrolled in the college-based ROTC officer training program when he attended University of South Carolina, and later served as a pilot flying helicopters in the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. Duke’s uncle was also a Navy pilot, and his grandfather a test pilot for Boeing.

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Duke said he started to think about joining the ROTC during high school after learning about the opportunities and career path it could afford him.

“After I saw the benefits, I considered it more,” he said. “And after visiting and talking to people, I realized that it would be right for me.”

Among those people were guidance counselor Deanna Cali, who advised Duke about the program. He is the first of her students who really dedicated himself to it, she said.

Moreover, she believes he has the character to succeed, noting how quick he is to donate to school-related fundraisers or open doors for people.  

“It’s in his nature,” she said. “And that’s what impresses me most about him. While others may think ‘How is this going to help my future or boost my resume or help me get into college,’ that is never really a thought with Kevin.”

Other faculty members took notice. Duke was unanimously chose to receive this year’s Beekman Medal, the school’s highest honor given to a student deemed to have the best character.

Duke received the honor during the school’s academic awards ceremony in June, the same night an ROTC representative presented him with his scholarship.

Duke, who enjoyed himself at prom with his friends before he starts intensive training in August, said receiving the medal was surprising and gratifying.

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“It made me realize my character was recognized by others,” he said. “By the end of high school, I learned that hard work does not go unnoticed.”