By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Back in March the faculty and administration of Millington Central High School recognized the Class of 2021 with the Senior Award Ceremony.
One of the names called multiple times in the Performing Arts Center that morning was Dalton Fitzgerald. From his performances in the NJROTC to the classes that helped him earn a 4.42 grade point average, Fitzgerald left as one of the most decorated seniors that day.
Despite COVID-19 precautions, a few MCHS instructors had to shake his hand, give him a hug and express their gratitude for Fitzgerald in traditional ways.
“That means a lot to me it really does,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m glad people feel that way about me. I’m glad it was like that. I wasn’t trying to do anything fancy. I was just being myself. I figured out eventually it doesn’t matter what other people think about you. You can be whatever you want to be but its not going to change who you really are.”
The son of Dean and Laura Fitzgerald came to MCHS four years ago the child of an Army officer, brother of high MCHS academic achiever Drew and his mother being one of the important officials at the school.
Dalton finding his own path in the halls of MCHS led to him earning the Class of 2021 Salutatorian and he will enlist in the U.S. Army May 18, five days after his graduation.
On May 13 on the Mooney Boswell Field at 7:30 p.m., Fitzgerald will share the stage with his best friend and Valedictorian Luis Carrillo.
“This guy right here was absolutely No. 1 who helped me get through it,” Fitzgerald noted. “He had my back and I had his back. It was always like that. We push each other.”
The friendly journey for Carrillo and Fitzgerald was guided by MCHS instructors lie Suan Sprunger an Alexandria Lightfoot. The teachers saw the bond between the duo from robotics to other extra curricular activities. The friendship between Fitzgerald and Carrillo began at Millington Middle School with a misunderstanding.
“We fought over a flash drive essentially,” Fitzgerald recalled. “He had a flash drive that he took all the parts off it. This was the seventh grade. We knew each other in the sixth grade. We were friends but we weren’t friends. So he had this cool little flash drive he took all the stuff off it and I thought it was cool. You could see all the boards and stuff. So I did one too and then we couldn’t tell which one belonged to who. So we had to name this weird names.”
Also a partnership was born that day. Fitzgerald said, “he can make it and I am going to make it do it.”
“We’ve always been goal oriented,” he added. “We’ve always like to do cool stuff. Essentially we have a knack for causing things to explode. Robotics in middle school, we loved that. So when we got up here, we did robotics with Ms. Sprunger. We have the same likes but we have different aspects of those interests. He was always the programmer and I was the builder.”
Back during their junior year, the duo joined Amy Kincaid in winning a statewide competition with the robot “Gearmo.” Fitzgerald and Carrillo shared the spotlight on that occasion and will do the same again at the 2021 MCHS Commencement.
“We’ve know for a while we were the top two,” Fitzgerald said. “It wasn’t a competition. I’ve always wanted him to be first. No. 1 for a fact I know he’s smarter than me. He’s worked harder and put in more work. I’m not even going to college, what’ the point.
“I get valedictorian and I get to give a speech and then what?” he asked rhetorically. “It means nothing after I leave here. What’s the point to try to put in the effort if its just going to be a name for me. On the other hand for him, valedictorian with his situation, immigrant, still doesn’t have a citizenship. This is all stuff that is going to help him.”
Dalton will enlist in the U.S. Army a few days after graduation He will enter the military branch with a 27 on the ACT, numerous medals from his time in the ROTC and strong family legacy.
“My family is a military family,” he said. “My dad was in the Army. Before I was born, nonetheless, we’ve always lived the Army lifestyle. I’ve always thought I’ll be in the military someday. I’ve always thought that.
“I’ve always played guns at home, had Army action figures,” Fitzgerald continued. “So when I came up here, I saw I would wear the uniform and be military for a little bit. It gave me an outlet to do military stuff and express my military nature.”
Fitzgerald said the Army will challenge him physically, mentally and intellectually. He has an understanding of the obstacles awaiting him from his grandfather Donald being in the Army and his father being a Ranger.
“I want to be like my dad but I want to out-do him,” Dalton acknowledged. “I want to out-do all those who came before me.”
Many on the MCHS campus like the odds of Dalton succeeding in the Army and in life.
“I can hope (the future) holds fortune,” he concluded. “I hope I end up living, everybody wants a happily ever after. But what I hope and what ends up happening can be two totally different things. We’re at the point of our lives we’re at a door. That door is open but you can’t see anything on the other side. You have to go through that door.”