WEST ORANGE, NJ – As the township and the nation remembers the men who died to protect our freedoms, we also turn to acknowledge those who currently serve in our armed forces and those training to become part of them.

One of those is West Orange High School Class of 2014 alumnus Dylan Pennell, who paid a special visit to St. Cloud Elementary School on May 13. He spent some time with his former fourth grade teacher Caroline Stoner and shared his journey to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis with her students.

Pennell shared how an assignment for the class lead him on his current path. His “famous New Jerseyan” project on Admiral William Halsey in Stoner’s fourth grade class introduced him to the Navy and the Naval Academy.

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“After talking about the project, I spent some time talking about my experiences at the Naval Academy so far,” said Pennell.

“I encouraged the students to keep an open mind and take full advantage of the opportunities provided in class and by the schools," he said, "then I had the privilege of answering their many well-thought out and engaging questions.”

Pennell was one of the top graduates in his 2014 WOHS class. He was also instrumental in establishing the Jr. Air Force ROTC program, now heading into its fourth year. Several graduates joined the military and are serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps., and Air Force. Graduates are also currently attending the US Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and West Point.

“I'm ecstatic that the program has become so firmly integrated into the school, and is so well appreciated by the West Orange community,” Pennell said.

“I can only hope it continues to grow and be able to offer the students of West Orange High school the chance to develop critical life skills and become part of a close knit group of hardworking people."

Pennell’s mother Suzanne, also a teacher and a prolific volunteer all through West Orange, waxed nostalgic about her son’s experiences in the West Orange School District.

“Because of an important unit of study taught by a great teacher, an inspiration to pursue a dream was begun, and encouraged and supported, not just by Mrs. Stoner but so many of Dylan's teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, coaches and BOE members,” she said.

“Our schools provide our kids an excellent education, and the legacy of that excellence is not just found in test scores. You never know just how a student might be inspired!”