Graduation season is filled with inspiring stories, but your valedictorian’s struggle to succeed despite being chronically annoying doesn’t hold a candle to this.
The first time Joshua Waugh applied to the Air Force Academy, he had to make up a Social Security number. To the best of his knowledge, he didn’t have one.
He grew up in the foster care system, just down the road from the storied university. As he filled out college applications, he was a 6’1” teen with bleach blond hair who weighed 140 pounds. In the summers, he ate one meal every other day.
Born to two “very drug-addicted parents,” he says, when he was in elementary school he and his diapered baby brother were locked outside in the snow by foster parents who decided they didn’t want the boys anymore. In his pre-teen years, he learned to live on the Ramen noodles and potatoes he bought working construction sites for a few bucks a day. He quietly survived sexual assault at the hands of another foster family member.
Holy shit. Can you imagine trying to haze this guy? Basic training must have been nothing for him. And, despite all this, Air Force Academy Officials say he has come through it with a remarkable lack of bitterness. Compare that to the upper-middle class suburban Social Justice major with the dreadlocks yelling about safe spaces outside on the quad right now.
Here’s something else: Waugh’s story is a glaring example of the horrible bureaucratic ineffectiveness of this country, and not just because the guy was basically able to make up his own Social Security number. While Waugh and his brother were being left on the streets and abused by the foster care system, they had two perfectly good, loving and capable caregivers who were barred from adopting the boys.
Before his grandmother’s death, the grandparents reached out to Douglas and Cynthia Somerville, family friends who were living in Oklahoma.
Douglas, known as Dusty, was a 1981 Air Force Academy graduate. They wanted to adopt the boys, they say, but Dusty Somerville was about to deploy to Saudi Arabia for three months and wanted to wait until he got back.
In the meantime, the boys were placed with another family, who had eight kids of their own and anywhere up to eight kids in the foster care system at any given time. Waugh estimates they received thousands of dollars a month for all their foster children. The foster parents bought a 40-foot camper “and they just left for three or four months at a time.” As the youngest foster children, it was often just Waugh and his brother in the house alone, he says. The only notice the boys received of their adoptive parents’ imminent departure was that they would stock the freezer with frozen pizzas. “You know those little Tostino’s pizzas – you bake them for 12 minutes? Yeah, I can do 100 things with those pizzas,” Waugh says.
Six months into the boys’ stay with their foster family, the Somervilles tried to adopt the boys. A judge ruled against them. “We were incredibly frustrated and wanted so badly just to be able to pull them out of that situation. Unfortunately, we had no legal right to do that,” said Dusty Somerville. “We were basically told that as long as they furnished one meal a day, they were OK,” says Cindy Somerville, adding that that meal could be a subsidized school meal program. “It was devastating.”
It is a miracle that Waugh turned out the way he did, and a testament to his amazing character. It is also a credit to our military to allow people with seemingly no other choices to rise up and make something of themselves. Hardship and life experiences breed better people and I’m immensely proud to know a guy like Waugh is the one protecting our skies while I get blackout drunk on my porch.
Congratulations, 2nd Lt. Waugh. Thank you for being proof that through hard work, you can become anything.
In his own words,
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough to do something. Just do it. Put in the work. If you want something bad enough, that work is just a bridge – and you can cross it.”.
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