West Broward Cadet Marches to Her Own Beat

As the 2018-2019 school year came to a close, many award ceremonies took place including the much anticipated “Broward County Cadet of the Year”. Seven top students from Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) high schools all vied for the coveted award and received scholarships valuing almost $10,000, but it was Cadet Colonel Gabriella Lopez from West Broward High School who was named with the illustrious title. 

The West Broward senior literally sets the bar high for herself every day. When she’s not in an ROTC uniform leading 340 students in the best JROTC program, she can usually be found in a costume dancing to a classical performance. The astute Battalion Commander says her two passions, ballet and JROTC, complement each other, and there is no doubt that this Bobcat commands respect on campus and on stage.

“In the dance world, I need to focus and be able to concentrate on my performance skills and being in front of an audience of people. The ROTC definitely helped with ballet and ballet has also instilled qualities I can use as a battalion commander,” explained Lopez.

When entering as a freshman, Lopez described herself as quite timid and really shy and not knowing how to be involved socially. Fast forward to after joining the program, and she has evolved into a role model to all. The position is a huge responsibility and her peers look up to her for support and advice. 

“It really makes no difference to us; a leader is a leader. Whether it’s a young lady or a young man, we like to put in whoever is qualified and she is certainly best qualified,” exclaimed Lt. Col. Kenneth Merkel.

The top well-rounded student credits the JROTC program for allowing herself to blossom into a mature confident adult with great communication and time management skills. Although she loves military, she plans on majoring in fine arts in college.

“You want to have grace under pressure, to be able to not only stand above all these expectations, but to surpass them,” added Lopez.

The Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC) partnership between the United States Department of Defense and the Broward County School Board is completing its 46th year and has included more than 100,000 JROTC cadets. This school year, cadet enrollment in exceeded 7,000 students in JROTC programs sponsored by all four branches of the military. The District’s JROTC program is the largest in the nation, with JROTC in every traditional high school.