The first African-American student from North Mecklenburg High’s ROTC program recently graduated as a commissioned officer from the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Second Lt. I. Adrian Tiwari, 21, who lives in the Northstone neighborhood of Huntersville, graduated from the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., in May.
Along with Tiwari, two other students from North Mecklenburg – Dennilyn Sarsozo and Tara Zartman – also graduated from the academy.
Tiwari said he has wanted to fly an airplane since fourth grade. In high school, he gravitated toward the ROTC for several reasons: First, he said, wanted to try out the military lifestyle.
“Going into high school, that is all the exposure you can get, since I did not come from a military family,” said Tiwari.
He said he also enjoyed the sense of belonging to another family, and that it provided extra role models. One of those role models was Senior Master Sgt. Lim Summerville, who has worked with North Meck’s ROTC program since 2001. The two met in 2006.
“I knew I could talk to him, and he would point me in the right direction,” Tiwari said.
Summerville speaks with pride about Tiwari and the rest of his students. “They become like our own,” he said.
On May 28, Summerville attended Tiwari’s graduation ceremony – Summerville’s first visit to the Air Force Academy.
“It meant a lot to me for him to come to the graduation,” Tiwari said. “The ROTC was like my second home.”
At the point in the ceremony where Tiwari officially gave his first salute as a commissioned officer, he saluted Summerville and another friend, Brandyn Ball, a senior airman.
Ball graduated from the North Meck ROTC the same year as Tiwari but went directly into the Air Force.
Following tradition, Tiwari gave Summerville a silver dollar when he returned to Charlotte for a recent visit.
Summerville spent 22 years in the Air Force, 17 as an Air Force recruiter, and he established a rapport with officials at numerous ROTC units. Shortly after retirement, he went to work with the North Meck ROTC.
Summerville is quick to make it clear that his primary goal is not to recruit students into the military.
“We try to do things by example. We want to make better citizens and help them represent themselves well,” he said.
Summerville “was always there to answer questions,” Tiwari said. “He was the only African-American (in the program), so his experience was different. I got something different from him.”
Summerville said he wants an opportunity to help more students. He also encouraged more African-American males to take advantage of the opportunities of ROTC.
In Tiwari’s case, he had strong family support at home. Tiwari grew up in the Huntersville/Lake Norman area.
“I had parents who pushed me,” Tiwari said.
Both his parents still work at Wells Fargo. He has a 14-year-old brother and an 11-year-old sister; those siblings pinned him at the academy graduation ceremony.
After enjoying a few traveling adventures over the summer, Tiwari plans to complete pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. By 2016, he plans to be an Air Force pilot.