HARLINGEN — Seyi Fagbemi explained with obvious pride how he conquered his fear of heights this summer.
“I felt like if I don’t get over this now I will never be able to do it again,” said Seyi, 13, of Nigeria.
He was one of more than 300 young men who’d just completed four weeks at the Marine Military Academy Summer Camp.
At a graduation ceremony yesterday morning, the campers aged 12 to 18 reflected on various activities that had changed their lives. Those included zip-lining, high ropes, combat fitness and leadership training.
“I have learned leadership skills,” said Travis Lommerse, 13, of Sanford, Florida.
His parents, John and Kristi, listened with admiration as he spoke about some leadership scenarios in which campers had to react quickly and effectively — cooperatively. Such situations by necessity cause some duress, as he discovered.
“It was hard to get for some of them,” he said.
The campers who completed the four-week course came from 33 states and nine countries. At yesterday’s ceremony, more than 600 family members watched with admiration as the young men graduated.
“It’s amazing,” said Dean Dooms, 68, whose grandson Mateo Gonzales was standing in formation.
“You can tell his self-respect is better and he’s much more polite,” Dooms said. “We just hope it sticks.”
Col. Glenn Hill, superintendent of MMA, said the younger campers exhibited the same power and motivation as their older peers.
“Other than size and height, there’s no difference from the ones who are going to be juniors this year,” Hill said.
He was visibly impressed by the caliber of campers this year.
“This has been a great group,” he said. “They all faced their fears whether it was being away from home the first time or doing the high ropes.”
Seyi’s mother Sandra Fagbemi was clearly impressed with her son’s success.
“I am very, very proud of what he’s become,” she said. “I see a remarkable change in just a few weeks. We flew 69 hours from Nigeria and it was worth it.”
Mateo, 13, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“The zip-lining was really fun,” said Mateo, of San Antonio.
“It was a little nerve-wracking to jump off,” he conceded. “It helped being with the other campers. It taught me a lot of discipline.”
The boys will now take what they’ve learned to their homes, families and friends in far away places across the United States and around the world.