Front Royal, VA–On Monday, August 20, 2012, nationally recognized educator and former Air Force officer Julie Shively spoke to Randolph-Macon Academy cadet leaders as part of their leadership training program.
Shively began by telling the students what she was not, stating that she was not naturally gifted, wealthy, or popular. Yet through hard work and sheer determination, she earned an appointment to the Air Force Academy class of 1986. As part of the seventh class of women at the Academy, she wanted to prove that she belonged there, so she made sure that at minimum she surpassed the female requirements set, and whenever possible she met the male standards.
Then she almost blew it all.
“I finished my freshman year with a 2.0 GPA, which was okay,” Shively told the R-MA students. But in her sophomore year, her grades slipped down to a 1.7. “I was called before the academic review board and essentially asked, ‘Why should we keep you?’” she recalled.
Shively once again fell back to hard work to get her through. For the next two-and-a-half years, she remained at the Air Force Academy year-round except at Christmas. She even dropped out of swimming her sophomore year. Her goal was to graduate with a 2.5. She graduated with a 2.46, having made the dean’s list twice—a remarkable recovery.
Shively went on to graduate with a degree in political science and became a C-141 pilot. “I asked for an A-10, but they didn’t give it to me,” she said, noting that female military pilots at that time were not commonplace.
After nine years in the Air Force, she left active duty to become a teacher. Shively graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a master’s degree in early childhood education and taught for three years in Virginia before moving to Atlanta, Georgia. There she distinguished herself by earning National Board certification, an honor bestowed on just two percent of teachers nationwide. She also earned her specialist degree in middle grades math and science from Brenau University. She now holds four postgraduate degrees altogether.
Shively is now the Principal of Wheeling Central Catholic High School and a U.S. Air Force Reservist. In addition, she is a published writer with two books about Civil and Revolutionary War sites to her credit, along with numerous children's board books for Seaworld and the San Diego Zoo. As an Air Force Reserve Historian, she has written histories such as the Air Force's participation in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, a pamphlet about the Tuskegee Airmen, and articles for Citizen Airmen magazine.
“How did I do it?” she asked the cadet leaders. She pointed out that she had turned the negatives in her life into positives. “I’m not naturally gifted, so I had to work. Not being wealthy kept me out of trouble. Not being popular saved my life. I had two good friends who died in a car crash after Homecoming my senior year. No one had great expectations of me, but that gave me the freedom to explore and discover.”
Amidst all of her hard work, Shively did not compromise her integrity, and she challenged the students to follow that path. “Integrity First” is one of the Air Force core values, she pointed out, and it means to know what is right and to do it.
Shively showed the students a video of “212 Degrees
”, which emphasized how small the difference between first and second place is—which means it is not usually won by talent, but by the work put in before the competition. She quoted Sun Tzu with, “The victorious leader only seeks battle after the victory has been won.” She questioned the students until they explained what it meant: you can be assured of victory if you are prepared. Shively then went on to discuss the magical 10,000 hour mark—that the difference between mediocre and excellence comes at the point when you have put 10,000 hours of practice into what you are doing.
“Ramp it up,” she challenged the students. “What is your passion? What do you want to do? If you want it, you will find a way to make it happen. But don’t compromise your integrity.”
“You will fail,” she said as she was concluding her presentation. “Just understand that. In the end, it’s not friends you have to answer to, it’s not even your parents. In the end there’s only one person you have to answer to—yourself. So what if you fail? What’s the worst that can happen? You learn to do it right.” Conversely, she added, “Don’t be afraid to succeed.”