For the past 13 years, Jonathan Ehret has celebrated French language and culture as a student at Lycée Francais de Chicago.
Until graduating this week, he commuted every day to the school near Irving Park Road and Lake Shore Drive, spoke only French -- except in English class -- and excelled in a rigorous curriculum grounded in the International Baccalaureate and French educational systems.
Jonathan EhretAge: 18
Hometown: Mount Prospect
School: Lycée Français de Chicago
Who inspires you? The men and women of our armed forces
What's on your iPod? A combination of country and rock music
What book are you reading? "A Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin
The three words that best describe you? Patriotic, leader and respectful
Yet all his peers likely would choose the same word to describe him: patriotic.
"I've always known I wanted to serve my country somehow," Jonathan, 18, said. "That's not to say that I'm detached from my French nationality, but I'm definitely proud to be a U.S. citizen."
Though barely old enough to vote, the Mount Prospect teen, who maintains dual citizenship as the son of a native Frenchman, has managed to revolve his life around activities and leadership opportunities that reflect that passion.
Jonathan is an Eagle Scout who broke his 82-year-old troop's record for the most merit badges, Illinois' finalist for a national American Legion scholarship, a flight sergeant in the Civil Air Patrol and a hopeful U.S. Army officer.
From an uncle in the U.S. Marines to a cousin a few times removed who lost his legs in Normandy, Jonathan points to the long line of relatives who served as the foundation for his own desire to join the military.
"I want to be part of the community in the greatest way I can, and I think the military will be a good avenue to do that," said Jonathan, who this fall will become a member of the Army ROTC program at Eastern Kentucky University.
Helping to cultivate his quest to be a good citizen has been Boy Scout Troop 23 in Mount Prospect. He's earned 61 merit badges and multiple Eagle Palm awards, a troop record, and served two years as senior patrol leader, the youth head of the troop.
His Eagle Scout service project stemmed from a short internship he had with the Mount Prospect Fire Department while he was exploring his interest in emergency medical technician services. Jonathan worked with the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance to build 30 mannequins used to demonstrate the dangers of fire and fireworks. He also facilitated the donation of 500 toys for kids at the organization's burn camp.
As if achieving the rank of Eagle Scout wasn't enough, Jonathan's troop also elected him to the Order of the Arrow, scouting's national honor society. He completed an induction ceremony known as the Ordeal, in which candidates maintain silence and receive small amounts of food while working on camp improvement projects.
He's currently a Brotherhood member and hopes, after two years of required exceptional service, to be recognized with the Vigil Honor.
"He is an outstanding leader who is well-respected and able to lead and motivate through example, whether in a troop meeting or on a wilderness trail," Troop 23 Scoutmaster David Nelson said. "Jonathan will be a success at anything he puts his mind to in life."
Nelson said Jonathan was elected crew leader on an 80-mile backpacking High Adventure trip to the Philmont ranch in New Mexico. He also received a Certificate of Merit in 2007 for saving the life of a fellow Scout. His troop was on its annual trip to Galena when someone began choking, prompting Jonathan to use the Heimlich maneuver.
Though scouting took up the bulk of Jonathan's free time, a couple years ago he heard about and quickly joined the Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force that promotes emergency services, aerospace education and its cadet program.
Every week, Jonathan attends meetings for the Palwaukee Composite Squadron, founded in 1941, at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling. In addition to learning about flying, safety and training for search and rescue operations, he's taken the Civil Air Patrol's orientation flights in both powered and glider aircraft. He plans to get his pilot's license once he's financially able.
Maj. Bob Dempsey, the squadron commander, said Jonathan is a member of both the color and honor guards, helping to present colors at hockey games and other events. He also has honored World War II veterans through the Honor Flight program upon their return from Washington, D.C.
"Jonathan is very dedicated to the program and certainly has an appreciation for the customs and courtesies and heraldry of the military," Dempsey said. "He lives by the honor code and will enter the Army with a lot more knowledge than the recruits standing next to him."
Jonathan, who moved up to the rank of technical sergeant, also has led lessons in leadership for the younger cadets.
"I think it's important to be charismatic and have people feel they can approach you," Jonathan said. "The military is very strict with its chain of command, but I'd hope to have an open-door policy."
Jonathan also served as his school's Model United Nations president, leading the club in a nationwide conference at the University of Michigan, and was selected to attend Boys State, an American Legion-sponsored event that centers on the structure of city, county and state governments.
Though an attempt to get into the elite U.S. Military Academy at West Point didn't work out, Jonathan said he's looking forward to majoring in Homeland Security and training to be an officer through the ROTC program.
He doesn't hesitate when asked about the possibility of being sent into combat upon college graduation.
"I know it would be for a reason," Jonathan said. "Making a sacrifice like that for my country isn't something I'm afraid of."
• Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org.