Oak Ridge Military Academy Graduate Responds to the Call of Service
Nathan Freeman has long been driven by a desire to serve. His charitable spirit has led him to care for those in need in a variety of capacities. He served his fellow cadets as a Battalion Commander at Oak Ridge Military Academy. He served those living in impoverished conditions in Ethiopia, and today he serves to counsel youth and families seeking individualized, alternative educational opportunities.
Growing up 15 minutes down the road from Oak Ridge Military Academy, Freeman could not have known as a young boy what impact the school and its leaders would have on his life, and on helping to give structure and direction to his charitable spirit. Today, as he looks to the next chapter in his life and education, he remains grateful to the leaders at Oak Ridge for helping to give him the confidence to lead, and the fortitude to serve a higher cause, even when faced with adversity.
The Road to Oak Ridge Military Academy
Freeman was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, and raised ten miles Northwest in the town of Summerfield.
“I was fortunate to be raised in an all-American family,” says Freeman. “I’m the middle of three boys, all one-and-a-half years apart. My Dad owned his own business, and we lived in a safe home with a white picket fence.”
Like many young people, by middle school, Freeman began to feel the adolescent social pressures of fitting in and rebelling against authority. His parents worried that their son was not living up to his full academic and personal potential.
“I was an inherently good kid, but I was making the wrong choices,” said Freeman. “My priorities were my social life and looking good for my peers. I made decisions to gain peer approval, and my grades were not what they should have been.”
In the eighth grade, Freeman’s parents decided to withdraw their son from public school and enroll him at Oak Ridge Military Academy. Their hope was that being siloed from the pressures and influence of students whom themselves were floundering to develop appropriate levels of maturity and accountability, that their son would refocus on his academics and learn valuable lessons of leadership and service.
Learning to Serve a Higher Purpose
At age 13, Freeman enrolled as a day student at Oak Ridge, taking classes on the military school’s campus during the day, and returning home to his family in the evening. By his senior year, he chose to live on campus full-time. It did not take Freeman long to adapt to life in a structured and disciplined military school environment. As his parents had predicted, Oak Ridge was the ideal environment to enable Freeman’s true potential to break free.
“When I enrolled at Oak Ridge, I was hungry,” recalled Freeman. “I wanted a challenge. I wanted to do things that others weren’t doing, but it’s difficult to overachieve in public school when you can wake up at 6:45, throw on sweatpants and get to school by seven. At Oak Ridge, I was up by 5:45, putting on my uniform. The standard at my previous school was so much lower than what Oak Ridge expected of us that I quickly realized that to be successful, I had to dig deep. It requires genuine personal fortitude to get done what you need to do in that environment.”
When Freeman returned to Oak Ridge for his freshman year, he re-entered the school’s halls with a new perspective—one fortified by confidence and a singular purpose.
“When I began ninth grade, I knew that if I did what I was supposed to do, by my senior year, I could hold a leadership position within the Corps of Cadets,” said Freeman. “I set my focus three years ahead, and that one goal enabled me to approach everything with the right perspective.”
After Freeman’s freshman year, his parents had seen such a significant transformation in his deportment and maturity that they enrolled his older brother in Oak Ridge as well.
Lessons in Diversity and Fortitude
Today, Freeman can look back on his time at Oak Ridge and realize the incredible opportunities that he was given to develop a cultural awareness that he may have never earned had he remained in his previous school.
“One of the best things about Oak Ridge is its cultural diversity,” said Freeman. “Some of my best friends in the world are my fellow cadets from Nicaragua, The Dominican Republic, Israel, and Angola. It is so essential for young people to develop an appreciation of cultural diversity. At Oak Ridge, I had conversations with cadets about our different ways of life and the ways that we were raised, and they taught me to appreciate each individual around me.”
Freeman is also grateful that Oak Ridge prepared him to overcome adversity and learn what it truly means to be a leader.
“One of the most impactful experiences I had at Oak Ridge was Cadre Training,” recalls Freeman. “It’s a leadership training process. One weekend the focus is physical, and the next it’s academic. The physical weekend is very mentally and physically intense. You may do log PT for three hours, low crawls for an hour, countless pushups, and then you sleep outside under a tent before waking up and completing a twelve-mile march. The experience challenges you, but you learn how to push through adversity and find success.”
Hearing the Call to Service
By the time Freeman reached his senior year, he had earned the role of Battalion Commander (BC), the highest-ranking cadet within the Corps. He was responsible for leading the other Battalion staff members, maintaining accountability for all cadets, and leading them in their daily activities.
“My time as the BC at Oak Ridge taught me that if serving is beneath you, then leading is above you,” said Freeman. “We’re called not to be a leader who lords authority over others, but who serves others. Oak Ridge taught me to lead from the front and show my cadets that I had their backs.”
Leading Oak Ridge’s Corps of Cadets strengthened the call to serve that Freeman already felt from his Christian faith, but perhaps his most selfless call to service, was yet to come.
Responding to a Higher Call
After graduating from Oak Ridge Military Academy, Freeman enrolled at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where—having been inspired by his Oak Ridge teachers—he studied Political Science and Criminology.
During Freeman’s junior year, on a Tuesday night, while attending college ministry, he was approached by a fellow student with a unique proposition.
“A student told me that her father was a pastor and would be holding a three-month discipleship intensive internship, and she believed I was the right fit,” said Freeman. “I prayed about it and decided I would go. So that summer, I moved to Charlotte and lived with her family, which included four biological and four adopted children, three of whom were from Ethiopia.”
The time Freeman spent with the family opened his awareness of the needs of Ethiopians. He soon realized how he was to serve his fellow man next.
“I knew God was calling me to the mission field,” said Freeman. “In early June, I flew to Ethiopia with my pastor. He stayed with me for seven days, and then I was by myself for three months for relationship-building, teaching English, and mistering.”
While Freeman’s time in Ethiopia was wholeheartedly satisfying, it was not without its struggles.
“There was definitely an element of culture shock,” said Freeman, “Especially when you’re taking cold showers that sometimes work and eating goat for sustenance. While I was in Ethiopia, the government experienced a coup d’état. All telecommunications were shut down for a month. My family was concerned, but they also knew that Oak Ridge has prepared me well and that I’d be able to take care of myself. During that time, I defaulted back to the lessons I learned at Oak Ridge, and I made it through it. Oak Ridge got me through.”
A Return to Service
Before Freeman left for Africa, he was presented with a unique opportunity to serve another cause close to his heart.
“I knew that I wanted to enter the workforce for a year before graduate school,” said Freeman. “One morning, a faculty member close to me at Oak Ridge called and asked if I’d be willing to come to campus and interview for a position within the Admissions Department. I put on a tie, drove to campus, and sat down with our President, and he hired me on the spot to be an admissions counselor. I’d start after my three months of service were complete in Africa.”
Today, Freeman is looking ahead to finishing his education by enrolling in a master’s degree program next year. Until then, he is helping young students—not too dissimilar from himself at their age—to decide if they have the desire and commitment to take on the challenge and reward of a disciplined, and service-minded education.
“I don’t ever want to give a prospective cadet some kind of used car dealer pitch,” said Freeman. “I want to make sure the student is the right fit for us, and that we are the right fit for him or her. I let every student that I speak with know how much pride I feel as an Oak Ridge graduate and especially as a former BC. I tell them, ‘The pain you’ll feel Is merely temporary, you’ll endure It, and in the end, it will be replaced by pride. A switch will flip inside of you, and you’ll feel proud of everything you accomplished.’ I tell them, ‘If tomorrow you want to do what others can’t, then today you need to do what others won’t.’ I do my best to bring about some conviction and I remind them that it’s not your intention that determines your destination, it’s your direction.”
Even as a member of the Oak Ridge staff, Freeman still feels sincere gratitude for the institution and its leaders.
“Oak Ridge is not the buildings. It’s the people. The faculty and staff are molding young people, destroying their ability to give excuses, and learning how to be accountable. When I have been faced with adversity in my life, I’ve remembered what Oak Ridge taught me.”
Today, Freeman extends a heartfelt and earnest message to all the faculty and staff at Oak Ridge.
“Thank you. Thank you for seeing the potential in me in a season when I didn’t. Thank you for holding me to a standard above what I thought I could accomplish. That confidence made all the difference in how I carry myself and how I set goals in my life today.”