By Kim Walter
FRONT ROYAL -- In her six years at Randolph Macon Academy, 18-year-old Ashley McManus has maintained a 4.0 grade point average, served 116 hours of community service and played for three different sports teams.
Now, the cadet major can add something else to her long list of accomplishments.
McManus has won the General Willard Scott Award, which is awarded by the Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States. Named for the former executive director of the association, the award goes to a cadet who best "personifies love of God, country and service to others."
More than 40 schools are part of the association, and around 20 actually nominated cadets for the award -- R-MA President Major General Henry M. Hobgood nominated the senior.
The recipient should be a well-rounded cadet, who also excels in academics, athletics and leadership.
McManus will receive an award of $2,500 and an engraved plaque at the association's annual conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
When Texas-native McManus came to R-MA six years ago, she wasn't particularly excited about going to a military school -- even with an extensive military history in her family.
"My grandfather, dad and brother all went to VMI," she said. "But no, I didn't want to go. I thought it was awful."
McManus said she quickly learned, though, that military school wasn't "just about drills." She credited R-MA with opening up a number of opportunities for her, and not just in serving her country.
The school takes on a number of charity and community service projects, which McManus said she tried to take advantage of as much as possible. But she didn't stop there.
In the fall, she would run cross country, followed by basketball in the winter and then soccer in the spring. She said all the activities, in combination with every day school work, still doesn't seem overwhelming.
"I was able to work out my scheduling so that I was always doing something," McManus said. "It was easy because there were so many opportunities right here. I had to take advantage of as many as I could."
With mathematics as her favorite subject, the soon-to-be graduate wants to be an electrical engineer for the Air Force. She will join the family legacy and attend VMI in the fall on a ROTC scholarship.
"I guess it is kind of funny that military school is the last thing I wanted to do years ago," she said. "But it just goes to show that you need to keep an open mind. Something new and different is always going to be a challenge, but that shouldn't keep you from trying."
McManus learned that she was being nominated for award, but she didn't think she had a chance. Since colleges with ROTC programs, like Virginia Tech can nominate cadets too, the chances of a high school student winning seemed slim.
"I was definitely a little shocked," she said, smiling. "My parents are really proud ... I'm just really honored."
As a cadet major, McManus has been identified as one of the top five cadets at R-MA, according to Celeste Brooks, director of public relations at the school.
Brooks questioned McManus about other awards she'd received, trying to list her accomplishments, but the student shied away, and just smiled.
"She's very humble," Brooks said.
This is the second time an R-MA cadet has won the award since its establishment in 2010.
"I think that what the award stands for is prestigious," McManus said. She plans to continue working in the military, and wants to look into community service opportunities at VMI.
"That's something I picked up on here at R-MA," she said. "That's one of the best feelings -- helping someone else."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org