Seneca student gains recognition from state lawmaker

McGowan cited for community service and goal to join Air Force

Grace McGowan is a leader in Seneca’s JROTC program. Now, she plans to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy to become a pilot (Grace McGowan/Special to The Sun).

For Grace McGowan, a lifetime of community service began when she took part in Girl Scouts at age 5.

“From there I realized how easy it is to make such a huge impact on our community,” McGowan explained. “It’s amazing to me, just having that idea of service and how simple it is.”

Now a senior at Seneca High School, McGowan is a leader in the school’s JROTC program, is learning sign language and plans to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy next year.

Her devotion to service did not go unnoticed by New Jersey Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield, who chose to highlight McGowan last month as part of her Student Spotlight series.

“Her dedication to the Junior ROTC was exceptional,” Stanfield said. “I also was very impressed by her getting involved in learning sign language. I thought that was really a neat thing to do, because it’s just such an important skill and more people need to learn that.”

McGowan, who wants to become an Air Force pilot, has several friends who are deaf or hard of hearing, thus her interest in learning sign language. Most of her time is spent helping other people, whether it’s helping freshman JROTC members navigate the pandemic or taking part in community service projects around Tabernacle.

“I really just want to continue that goal of service,” she noted. “I want to strengthen that service to bring in more towards the nation, so that’s why I really want to join the Air Force.”

McGowan has exceptional grades in school, takes AP and honors classes and has mastered the skill of networking. By getting to know her teachers and classmates well, she said she’s learned a lot about teamwork.

“Get to know the people that you’re gonna be close to,” she advised her fellow classmates. “Obviously it’s hard this year with COVID, but we all try to chat a little bit. Staying after school for a few seconds every single day, just chatting with them is really important.”

McGowan isn’t sure who submitted her to Stanfield’s office, but she has an inkling it was her counselor at Seneca. She learned she had been chosen while browsing Facebook one day.

“I never thought that I was ever going to see my face on there,” McGowan said. “I was amazed and thankful at the same time. It’s awesome that (Stanfield) does this and is constantly congratulating the kids in our area.”

Each month, Stanfield, who serves on the education committee, chooses students to highlight on social media. She said the selections are especially important because COVID has forced schools and other community groups to create fewer opportunities to recognize students’ hard work.

“There is so much negativity out there, and we just want to have some positive news for people,” Stanfield explained. “We want to let people know we have so much hope for the future. These kids are phenomenal.”

Anyone can nominate a student for Stanfield’s monthly spotlight by emailing a photo and explanation of the nominee’s talents, accomplishments and goals to nmaskell@njleg.org. Those who are chosen will receive a letter of recommendation from Stanfield for their college applications. 

“We’ve had many submissions each month and we have to go through them and pick the best of the best,” Stanfield said. “But, they’re all wonderful, and that’s a difficult process.”