Yesterday I had the honor of sitting down with first-time School Square volunteer and founder of The Summit Project (TSP), Marine Corps Major Reservist David J. Cote. With his watch still set to military time, the now UNUM employee and member of their Accelerated Leadership Development Program punctually ushered me into the cafeteria with his lunch in hand. Over the next hour we talked about his experience volunteering in Portland High School teacher Sally Reagan’s 11th grade Modern World History class, our mutual interests (including Boston College!), the time he made a Girl Scout troop’s dreams come true by getting them on the news, how he got his nickname Sandman, the importance of investing in kids and the people who inspired him along his journey. Oh, and like any good math major, he even managed to sneak a few equations into the conversation.
But let’s rewind his journey a bit. Because before volunteering with School Square…before founding The Summit Project to honor the fallen service members from Maine who’ve died in the line of duty since 9/11 by carrying an engraved rock in their honor to summits in Maine and across the world…before becoming a Major in the Marine Corps…before working at the Pentagon…before creating an algorithm for the Monterey Fire Department to cut down on their response times…even before writing his thesis on veteran homelessness and the countless other incredible things he’s done in his lifetime…
Before all this, he, too, was a high schooler like Sally’s 11th graders. Looking for direction. Looking for a role model.
Lucky for all those he’s impacted along the way, he found a role model in an incredibly motivated upperclassmen named Jeremy Walsh who just so happened to have his sights set on the United States Naval Academy. And as you can probably piece together, Dave followed suit, graduated with a degree in math and hasn’t stopped being a role model to others since. His eagerness to meet the need in Sally’s Modern World History class, then, comes as no surprise.
On February 29th, Dave was excited to share his journey, his work and his passion with Sally’s class. “I love kids’ energy,” he said, and after meeting Dave, you can quickly imagine how the students feed off of his energy, too. He wanted his presentation to be engaging and even the teacher, Sally Reagan, wasn’t excused from participating. Everyone in the room whipped around, sharing something they’d learned in their studies of WWII and building off of each other’s comments. The next hour was filled with conversation about leadership theory, mental toughness, starting a nonprofit, goal setting, political science, veterans in Maine and in America and The Summit Project.
“I had a blast. I didn’t want to leave!” he told me of his time volunteering at Portland High School.
And because no story is complete without a Hallmark-worthy takeaway, Dave shared that he left the class with a parting thought: “Find something you [really care] about and pursue that as your passion.” It’s a message Sally’s students won’t soon forget. Paired with a name, a face and a story, Dave is a living example of what this looks like.
Want to hear even more exciting news? Sally shared with me that they’re in the process of organizing a Portland High School Summit hike this Spring! These are exactly the kinds of relationships and experiences we know can happen when we connect community and classroom. This is what School Square is all about.
Volunteering in Sally’s classroom isn’t the first time Dave has shared his passion with students in and out of the classroom, and it won’t be the last. The Summit Project engages with students across the state, sharing the Honor Display (which showcases several memorialized stones) in two different high schools across the state. When asked why it’s important for him to share The Summit Project with schools he said:
“It’s an opportunity to expose students to service and sacrifice and being part of something greater than yourself…to operate as a community.”