What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

I’ve had many opportunities in my life, and career, to ask young people to recall past events, or what they might perceive as their future and write about them. I recall reading paragraphs which recollected exploits in those “what I did over summer vacation” essays, and the wonderfully creative pieces on “what I want to be when I grow up.”

I’m sure the summer vacation pieces were easier to write, as students just had to recall things done over the summer. They already happened so students had something to grab onto as they penned their essays. The other topic, though, required a bit more thought, and I’m sure from ages 5 to 18, and for some, even longer, the answer to that question constantly changed.

There were always those few who knew at age 5 what they really wanted to be when they grew up and never wavered from the path to get there. I know one such young person, who set his sights on what he wanted to do, not as far back as age 5, but as far back as grade 5, and he began his journey toward his goal right then.

I recall this young man telling his parents he wanted to grow up to do something in law enforcement. He said he liked trying to figure out solutions to problems. He said he liked TV shows that involved gathering evidence, finding clues, solving crimes. He wasn’t exactly sure which area of law enforcement he wanted to pursue, but figured he’d have to start by first becoming a police officer, then seeing what opportunities might be available after he reached goal one.

When the young man was in sixth-grade, he wanted to see what being a police officer was like, so he asked his father, who knew officers at a local police department, if he would arrange an interview with a police officer. One particular officer did him one better. He arranged for the young man to do a ride-around on a Saturday, and see some firsthand duties of police officers, and witness some day-to-day operations of the police department. This seemed to fuel the young man’s desire to pursue his goal.

As the young man got older and went to high school, he had opportunities to take criminal justice courses through distance learning. These too, kept his drive alive to become involved in law enforcement, and he began his search for colleges that offered criminal justice as a major degree program. He found one in Buffalo.

Throughout his interest in criminal justice, the young man also loved playing baseball. He wasn’t a big kid, but loved the game and wanted to pursue playing as long as he could. He worked hard at it, and played in numerous regular, travel, and prep leagues, eventually playing for his high school and college, all the way through graduation from both. He knew what he had to do to reach these goals and kept it in mind as he continued his race toward his career goal.

Along the way he set another goal, one saying he wouldn’t go beyond four years of college to get his degree, promising himself that he’d stay focused and work to get it done within four years. He accomplished that goal.

The young man graduated from college and began his pursuit of law enforcement agencies where he might be accepted into their program. He began testing for positions in police/sheriff’s departments, and sent out numerous online applications, some up to 40 pages long, hoping anyone would offer him an interview, or anything necessary to get an invitation to their academy.

Being somewhat impatient at times, discouragement surfaced while he worked two … sometimes three, jobs waiting for an opportunity. About eight months after college graduation, he received a call inviting him to take a written test for a police department academy. If he passed, they’d offer him a chance to take the strength/endurance test. He passed both and an interview was scheduled for a month later. He got through the interview and a background check was begun on him. After that was okayed, a second interview in front of a panel of six people from the police department was scheduled, and after completion of that, he was extended an invitation to attend the police academy which would begin just slightly more than a year after his college graduation.

Thirty-nine candidates began training together. Their academy training was extremely “boot camp” like. The summer was unbearably hot (temperatures often over 100), but he and 29 more of those 39 young men and women, all sharing the same dream, worked together, stayed together, pushed each other and survived training, and stood as a group six months later, being issued their badge, and seeing their dream come true.

I’m lucky because I got to see all this happen first hand, from dream to reality, as nine days ago I witnessed the oath of, shook the hand of, and gave a hug to, Officer Jonathan Lombardo, now a member of the Chesterfield County Virginia Police Department. Tears welled during the ceremony as I recalled every uniform he ever wore (batboy, school, altar server, soccer, basketball, and all the baseball uniforms) up to the uniform he was wearing at that moment when Sally and I had the honor of pinning on his shield.

What makes me proudest, in all this, is that Jon focused hard on what he wanted to do, with baseball, college and life. He set goals, his course, and stayed that course, physically getting to answer the question asked of him many years ago, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Thanks to all of you who helped him arrive at his answer.