Anthony J. Carter hadn’t been back home to Buffalo in three years. He’s been too busy chasing his dream, at Tuskegee University in Alabama and at the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va.
But when it came time to be commissioned as a second lieutenant, Carter knew where he wanted the ceremony to be held – in the assembly room of his old high school, the WNY Maritime Charter School in Buffalo.
“This is where it all started for me,” the 22-year-old Carter said just before the commissioning ceremony. “This is where my dreams began. I went from bonehead kid about to be kicked out of high school to a Marine Corps officer.”
Carter, who served as the school’s battalion commander in his senior year, has become the role model for the Maritime Charter School. He’s graduating from Tuskegee on Saturday, with a bachelor of science degree in sociology. And he has become one of the first two Marine officers commissioned from Tuskegee.
But that journey began at the charter school on Genesee Street in Buffalo.
“This is my home,” he said inside the school before the ceremony. “Part of the reason I stayed away for three years is I wanted to come back and have something to show for it.”
During a 40-minute ceremony before about 75 family members, friends, old classmates and current Maritime Charter School cadets and administrators, Carter thanked those who rescued him from a tough background. And then, dressed in his dress blues, he implored current cadets to push others in the same way.
Carter explained that he was a weak student in his freshman year at the school. He hung out with and tried to impress the wrong people, and he made excuses for his failures.
“I grew up with less than nothing,” he said. “I was heading down the wrong path, to become another statistic. If I had continued down that path, there’s no way I would have graduated from high school and gone to college.”
Sometimes, he said, it takes only one person to turn your life in the right direction. That person was Carter’s naval science instructor and mentor at Maritime, retired Master Chief Rich Osborne.
Osborne said he saw a “spark” in this young man.
“Because of his natural leadership ability and his drive, students tended to follow his lead,” Osborne said.
Headed in the right direction, Carter became a much stronger student and a leader in the school, serving as battalion commander in charge of 300 student cadets in his senior year.
“This place gave me structure,” Carter said. “No one took interest in me until they noticed I wanted to change.”
The school’s mission is to develop these cadets, many of them coming from tough backgrounds, into solid students, effective leaders and responsible citizens.
“Anthony had something he could grasp onto for the first time in his life,” said retired Lt. Col. Lawrence Astyk, the school’s commandant. “It was trying to be the best leader he could be ... He is the ultimate cadet and ultimate citizen. He dedicated his life to helping other people in the school, helping himself and now serving our country. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
So Carter has grown from self-described “bonehead kid” to Maritime Charter battalion commander to a member of Tuskegee’s selective Naval ROTC program to Marine Corps second lieutenant and college graduate.
“It’s a classic American success story, a tribute to hard work, discipline and patriotism,” said Thomas H. Burton, one of the school’s leading supporters. “We’re all proud that A.J. Carter is now an officer and a gentleman in the Marines.”
During a sometimes-emotional ceremony that included his paying tribute to his father, Anthony L. Carter, the new officer showed his leadership skills. He walked back to a group of current Maritime Charter cadets, demanded their full attention and delivered a stern and powerful message.
“Take that person who’s not performing well and pull them out of the gutter,” he told the students.
He reminded them that he wouldn’t be in his current position if someone hadn’t done that for him: “I was that person who was in the gutter.”