by Winston Chua
The San Marino Rotary Club Thursday afternoon welcomed four of the newest appointees from the San Gabriel Valley to the nation’s service academies.
This year’s distinguished appointees are Salvador Chavez (Sher High School), Elizabeth Lynch (La Salle High), Damon Payne (Glendora High) and Virginia Brawley (Western Christian High).
The keynote speaker for the event was Shawn Bernardini, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1995. Introducing Bernardini was San Marino Alum and veteran Charles Rogers. This is the 11th year that the San Marino Rotary Club has recognized appointees. Many were recognized from multiple districts last year while Thursday’s ceremonies included just those from the 27th Congressional District.
Congresswoman Judy Chu stopped by the meeting to give the audience more background on each of the honorees, talking about Virginia’s excellence in softball and her outstanding leadership capabilities; Salvador’s leadership abilities and football prowess; Elizabeth’s desire to give back and devote her life to her country; and Damon’s passion for flight and airplanes and his military pedigree.
Present with Elizabeth was her mom Christine, who adopted her from an orphanage in China. Elizabeth received the opportunity recently to visit the orphanage from which she came.
Chu talked about the incredible skills of each teenager and how only the best and brightest are offered appointments in the military. Only a limited number of people each year are nominated to four of the five service academies.
Bernardini later captured the audience’s attention by sharing about his extensive military experience in the Air Force, and how some of his best friends are people he has had the honor of serving with and flying in combat with. He encouraged the new enrollees to manager their time wisely and to have lots of fun, but cautioned them to never violate their honor code because “your reputation will follow you in life.”
Bernardini spent more than nine years in the Air Force and told many entertaining stories. He spoke of how he was chosen at a young age (26 or 27) to escort President Clinton’s plane out of Kosovo. Serving in both Italy and Korea he talked about how his time at the Air Force has helped him to be “a step above” many of his peers who did not have the experience of serving.
Serving in the armed forces gives you “a belief in self, ability to lead and confidence in yourself,” he added.
Many of his friends he served with are now commercial airline pilots. Bernardini quipped that he has texted pilot friends of his before their flights: “You better not screw up this landing.”
Inspired by the movie Top Gun, he also talked to the audience about his opinion on the military’s use of drones, which have great potential to do both good and harm.
Rogers added after the meeting that the military offers unparalleled education, academic excellence and athletics while helping youth to prioritize their lives and be great managers of their time. “It was fabulous,” he described of his own experience. Rogers graduated from San Marino High in 1983 and from West Point in 1987. Like Bernardini, he said that the people he is closest with are his classmates from the Academy.
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