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Leader in school ready for new challenge

Student leader: Matthew Middleton

Photos by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Thornapple Kellogg — At 10 years old, Matthew Middleton could imagine himself pursuing “18 different jobs” as a grownup, he recalled. 

Then he learned about the U.S. military and began to see himself in the Navy. 

“You see enough bad stuff happening in the world and you want to protect those you love and your freedom, because people don’t have that everywhere in the world,” he said. 

Born and raised in Middleville, Matthew has been accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy. He was nominated by Michigan congressman Peter Meijer and officially received his appointment at his high school’s honors night from Lt. Cmdr. Strand, representing Admiral Sean Buck, superintendent of the Naval Academy. 

Out of the 23,000 applications the academy receives each year, only 5% are accepted, Strand said. 

“Young men like Matthew and the young women who attend the Naval Academy don’t just go there to get a great education,” Strand said. “They spend four years learning values like honor, courage and commitment. These are the core values of every member of the Navy and Marine Corps team.” 

Matthew Middleton

Later this month, Matthew will move to Annapolis, Maryland to begin seven weeks of basic training. After his first two years, he plans to sign his contract “right away,” he said, with the goal to become a Navy SEAL.

“If you’re going to go into war, you want the best training you can have, and that’s why I decided to join the Navy,” he explained. 

Learning to Lead

Before he committed himself to serving his country, Matthew led in the classroom, on the wrestling mat and the football field. He earned all-conference honors in wrestling and football and served as captain of both teams. 

His favorite senior year memory: scoring a touchdown at the final game of the year and having the team rush down the field to celebrate their win.  

Outside of athletics, Matthew listed graduating in the top 10 in his class as his greatest accomplishment in high school. 

“I didn’t like to lead when I was younger, but you start doing enough and you grow into a leader,” Matthew said. “Being a wrestler, younger guys look up to older guys, and as the quarterback, I fell into a natural leadership role.” 

He hopes to find the opportunity for a leadership position while attending the Naval academy. 

Thornapple Kellogg High School science teacher and football coach Jeff Dock described Matthew as a “great leader and great kid.” 

“(Matthew) is constantly working behind the scenes,” Dock said. “He’s up at 5 a.m. in the weight room working out, and does all the extra stuff no one else knows about.

“He’s always been a leader, but this year as a whole, it jumped out that his leadership ability had grown. To see him progress in that way is awesome and stands out as the culmination of all the work he put in.” 

Matthew Middleton, right, received his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy from Lt. Cmdr. Strand, left, at his high school’s honors night

Dock said Matthew was always the one to “dive in” and do whatever it took to help the team. 

His advice for Matthew: “Continue to challenge yourself and don’t be afraid of challenges. Control what you can control and remember, it’s always 65 and sunny.” 

Matthew credits his family, teachers and community for supporting and shaping him into the person he is today. 

“I hope my family misses me, I’m going to miss them. I’m not always going to have my younger brothers around to randomly wrestle or toss a football around with,” he said. 

“It’s all going to be challenging; it’s a new lifestyle, but I’m not nervous.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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