Students attending the Scotland County NAACP’s back-to-school bash this weekend will learn that there’s more to success than following the sage advice to “stay in school.”
Dr. James McLauchlin, a retired Air Force officer and educator and current member of the Cumberland County Board of Education, will be the featured speaker at Saturday’s event.
“I want to talk to them about the value of staying in school - not only staying in school but making the best of it,” said McLauchlin.
A native of Fayetteville, McLauchlin holds a doctorate from South Carolina State University and holds the distinction of being the first African-American to circumnavigate the globe nonstop. In 1981, while still a navigator in the Air Force, McLauchlin travelled as part of a mission to fly over Iran during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
“It was an operational mission - we weren’t just doing it for show,” said McLauchlin. “I went with a crew and we took off from an Air Force base in Michigan in two planes. We took off from Michigan and headed east over the Atlantic, over Europe and the Middle East, down over the Indian Ocean, over the Pacific and then landed.”
The flight, made by two B-52 aircraft, took just over 46 hours and required five in-air refuelings. McLauchlin retired from the Air Force in 1988. His subsequent transition to education, he said, came “quite by accident.”
“I was going to retire and I didn’t exactly know what I was going to do and there was a job opening in Fayetteville, my hometown, teaching ROTC,” said McLauchlin
He took the job at E.E. Smith High School in Fayetteville, later earning two master’s degrees and a doctorate and becoming an assistant principal at Western Harnett High School. McLauchlin ultimately retired as a middle school principal in Hoke County. He has served one full term on the Cumberland County Board of Education and will run unopposed for a second term in November.
While many students are told simply to stay in school, McLauchlin’s speech is expected to encourage them to set their sights higher than that.
“The objective should not be just to stay in school,” said McLauchlin. “So many finish high school and are almost unemployable because they have not acquired the skills they need to be competitive.”
Providing examples such as Dr. Benjamin Carson, who struggled with academics as early as third grade but is now head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, McLauchlin tries to show students that there is merit in performing well in school.
“There are some kids who are not dropouts, they still go to school every day, but they should not only go to school,” McLauchlin said. “While you’re there, you need to make sure you make the best possible grades, learn all you can learn, and go to the top of your class.”
The NAACP back-to-school bash will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday at I. Ellis Johnson Elementary School. Some 1,000 students are expected to attend the event, all of whom will receive free school supplies.