Shackleford: I learned to be a leader at Fishburne

Keith Shackleford didn’t remember who spoke at his Fishburne Military School graduation in 1988, but he remembers practically everything else about that day.

“I remember sitting right there where you are. I cannot tell you who spoke to me, I didn’t remember what awards I got,” said Shackleford, an attorney in North Carolina and keynote speaker at the Class of 2016 commencement at Fishburne on May 14.

“I do remember going back to the Quadrangle, ringing that bell as the battalion XO, and calling that last final formation to order. Those are vivid memories,” said Shackleford, whose four years at Fishburne defined his upbringing.

His mother passed away when he was 7 years old. He went to live with his father, “but that situation was not the best for me,” Shackleford said, so he went to boarding school for the rest of elementary school, then was set out on the task of finding a high school.

“We started out looking at the fancy private schools in Maryland and New England. I don’t remember which ones they were. Finally, we started narrowing it down to military schools,” said Shackleford, who was set to visit Fishburne and Fork Union on the same beautiful spring day, but never ended up making it to Fork Union.

Fishburne became that setting for Shackleford “where I would grow and develop into a young man, like you have now.”

As a freshman, he was part of a rangers group, and he remembers the senior Army instructor attached to that group constantly reminding the cadets: “Stay alert, stay alive.”

“That stuck with me,” said Shackleford, who hears the mantra in his head to this day as a reminder to stay focused.

He also took with him lessons in leadership. Shackleford was the first sergeant in Alpha Company his junior year, and he remembers a difficult time with an eighth-grader in the company who had trouble adjusting to life at FMS.

“We tried everything,” said Shackleford, who took from the episode “how to work with other people, and how to try to accomplish a common goal.”

“I carried that with me into later years. I still carry it now,” Shackleford said. “When I sit down in a meeting, one of the first things I think is, What are we trying to accomplish. And then I look at who we have on the team, and how we can best get the best qualities out of those folks.

“I will always, always look back and say, if it wasn’t for the environment at Fishburne, I would not have learned how to be a leader,” Shackleford said.

A noted litigation attorney in North Carolina, Shackleford let his guard down as he spoke to the graduates, admitting that he hadn’t cried at his own graduation, but was close to tears as he shared his memories of his time at FMS.

“You guys live together, you study together, at times you fought, at times you joke with each other, at times give each other heck. That’s the brotherhood that we all, when you throw your hats up in the air and become alumni, we welcome you into the next part of your Fishburne experience. That brotherhood is the other thing that you will stand out for you,” Shackleford said.

Story and video by Chris Graham

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