Character Guides Action


Friends and Family,

The national political and societal environment has thrust some difficult topics into the forefront of our academic, health, and emotional discourse, especially in relation to harassment, abuse, and gender role behaviors of our youth and youth of the past. Many adults are having a great deal of difficulty addressing this topic with each other, so you can only imagine the difficulties our students are having with this discussion. I would like to share with you some disturbing statistics:

A recent national survey by Making Caring Common, a frightening 87 percent of 18- to 25-year-old women report having endured at some point in their past at least one of the following: being catcalled (55 percent); touched without permission by a stranger (41 percent); insulted with sexualized words (like “sl^&” or “b$%^&”) by a man (47 percent); insulted with sexualized words by a woman (42 percent); having a stranger say something sexual to them (52 percent); and having a stranger say they were “hot” (61 percent). Half of the men in this survey reported that they’d harassed a woman in at least one of these ways in the past. (Educational Leadership, Oct. 2018, v76, #2, pg. 52-57)

At Sarasota Military Academy, all of our students are “cadets”, a gender-neutral term. In addition, the concepts of “honor“, “respect“, and “integrity” are explicitly taught through our JROTC curriculum and are consistently discussing concepts of leadership. We ask that our instructors, and parents, speak to our cadets and children, both in the academic setting and at home, regarding the impact of an honorable leader (our cadets) on their society, simply by being an active “upstander” (stands up for the oppressed). Talk to your cadets about how this topic has become so divisive in our national setting, and encourage them to be that leader, that “upstander“, that changes his/her immediate societal environment. I truly believe that our cadets can make a very positive impact on their society and lead the way for our national leaders.

SMA-LTC Fred Fout
Head of School
SMA High School Campus

Character Day 2018 Highlights

Character Day is an annual global day that brings together millions of people of all ages in schools, classrooms, companies, homes — anywhere people already gather — to engage in conversation and action around character strengths like empathy, grit, gratitude, creativity, and leadership. This year was the fifth annual (September 26, 2018), and there were over 200,000 groups participating — that’s 15,000 schools and over 4 million people.”

SMA Prep has participated in all previous Character Day events since it began 5 years ago.  This year’s #CultivatingCharacter event did not disappoint. Cadets developed and participated in a “Bravery” Flash Mob. The performance was Skyped globally through a live stream. As described by the Character Day crew, “Tapping into this event at Sarasota Military Academy in Sarasota, Florida was such a highlight! Among other activities, the students did a choreographed “bravery” flash mob all filmed and Skyped into the live stream from a drone flying overhead.”

Cadets also created a Periodic Table of Character Strengths focusing on Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence. Discussions and collaborative projects took place all over campus.



Trisha Yearwood Kicks Off Inspire Project Speaker Series

Platinum-selling, Grammy-winning artist and best-selling cookbook author Trisha Yearwood challenged SMA cadets to exceed expectations as she kicked off The Inspire Project Speaker Series for 2018-19. Ms. Yearwood is known for her moving vocals, her love of storytelling and her delicious southern recipes. SMA cadets responded to the down-home and down to earth charm that has become a trademark in her professional life. The focus of this year’s campus-wide initiative is Project Equality and Trisha Yearwood was gracious enough to spend some time taking questions from SMA Prep cadets.

When asked why she picked music to pursue over other interests, Mr. Yearwood responded, “music picked me, I just knew I wanted to be a singer, but if I hadn’t become a singer I might probably have become an accountant”. Ms. Yearwood was simply always passionate about music.

What drives Ms. Yearwood to keep up with all her success? She admits to being very competitive even if she isn’t good at something. She credits her mom and dad for being a  risk-taker, and her sense of adventure in trying new things. Her dad is the reason she fell in love with music, played guitar and sang. Her mom was the driving force that let me know as a woman she could do what she wanted and be happy. Ms. Yearwood stated that her parents are her “heroes”.

As far as being a woman in business, Ms. Yearwood pointed out that there are some challenges but you need to work hard no matter what and don’t let any excuse get in your way. As she was entering the music business, she is thankful that she had Reba McEntire as her mentor to help navigate as Trisha Yearwood began her early music career.

Cadets also received some words of wisdom on time management. She admitted to not really have time for everything she has going on in her life. “There are baseballs in the air and some fall on the ground. I try to choose what I can do well and learn how to say no. You can’t be a people pleaser because then you won’t do anything well.”

Responding to the question of liking school or not, Ms. Yearwood gave an honest answer. “I hated it and I liked it. My mom was a teacher and she was my teacher in the 3rd grade in a very small school. I was a self-proclaimed nerd and an “A” student who got involved in everything.” She clarified that it was music that was what she had always loved to do.

A large part of what The Inspire Project is about is to offer young people 1st hand accounts of what it is like to pursue your dreams. Cadets are always curious if people who become successful ever had to deal with failure. Ms. Yearwood mentioned that she is competitive and doesn’t enjoy failure. However, a person begins to appreciate failures as the successes become sweeter. “Learning what doesn’t work is just as important what does work. It is what you do after that that matters.”

Perseverance is a character trait that many cadets work to build every day. Mr. Yearwood shared that she never thinks about quitting, but that the true answer is there are moments when you just want to give up. You get past those moments and deep down even with a bad experience you have to know you don’t give up.

Sharing her strong sense of humor made this a relatable and fun experience for cadets. Ms. Yearwood stated that if she were not able to sing, she might be in prison. Even though her cookbooks have turned into a completely different career she says that she would always pick music. “If I weren’t successful in other things, I’d still find a way to sing in my local honky tonk.”

Paul Molnar, One of a Few Remaining Holocaust Survivors, Shares His Personal Story

SMA Prep cadets experienced a profound, personal account of loss and luck from one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors, Mr. Paul Molnar. Mr. Molnar emphasized to the 8th-grade students, that he was 14 years old when the Germans occupied his Hungarian village on March 19th, 1944. “I was the same age as you are now when my life changed forever.”

As Mr. Molnar began to tell his story, cadets embarked on his precarious journey as he recounted his initial relocation to a Hungarian ghetto where anti-Jewish laws were established and he was required to wear the Jewish (Star of David) badge so he could be easily distinguished from others as a Jew. He described the cramped, unsanitary conditions being transported in a cattle car to an unknown destination that he would later learn was Auschwitz-Birkenau. “Many old people died and others lost their minds,” he said recalling his 3-day transport to the death camp.

fullsizeoutput_b08It was at Auschwitz where the sorting lines formed to the right and the left. His mother went to the right staying with his grandmother and little brother. While he and his cousin Otto went to the left. He reminded cadets, “I had no idea where we were or why.”

He would later notice four chimneys spewing ash into a summer sky. “What are they burning?” he asked a prisoner nearby. “It’s your family going up in smoke,” the stranger replied. He would never see his mother, grandmother or little brother again.

“5,000 a day in June of 1944… Auschwitz was built to be a killing machine,” Mr. Molnar stated without hesitation.

Another cattle car transport brought Mr. Molnar to the labor camp of Buchenwald where he believes he remained alive because of his youth, ability to work and also strokes of luck. “I survived not because I was a hero. That’s the way it was.”

Cadets listened intently to Mr. Molnar’s every word. SMA-Cadet Samantha Mast described the impact of his story. “I could feel how confused he must have been when he was younger; when he was our age.” SMA-Cadet Elise Dunn also expressed an emotional connection. “There are not a lot of people left that can tell their story. It was very special.”


SMA-MAJ Pelletier, who is teaching Holocaust survivor literature to her 8th graders, was captivated listening to such an intimate recounting. “To listen to his story and see the cadets make specific connections to his powerful and personal story offers a unique, authentic and memorable experience.”

Mr. Molnar was told he was free on May 8th, 1945 finding himself along the Czech border and eventually preparing himself to return to his home in Hungary. He arrived at an empty house and later found out his father was at work and would be returning home. He never imagined he would see his father again. He would eventually learn that he lost 16 immediate family members.


Members of Mr. Molinar’s family joined him. Two of his great-grandchildren are SMA Prep cadets, who he described as “the pleasure of my eye”.

Mr. Molnar told the cadets not to be a bystander when they hear racial or bullying remarks stating, “this is how something like this happens.” As he received a final thank you for his visit to SMA Prep, he said, “I need to do this, there aren’t many of us left.”

About Paul Molnar

Survivor/Camps: Ujpest (Hungary), Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Magdeburg, Berga

Born in 1929 in Ujpest, a suburb of Budapest, Hungary, Molnar was the older of two sons of a moderately wealthy Jewish man in the construction business. His life prior to World War II was quite normal. He attended public school, mixed with all kinds of children, and recalls very little anti-Semitism. Watch Mr. Molnar tell his story at Studies in the Holocaust with Paul Molnar, Holocaust Survivor

Character Day 2017 Highlights

As part of the campus-wide event, faculty and students participated in Character Day! Let It Ripple Film Studio, who sponsors the global collaboration, explains the event:


“Thank you all for being part of the fourth annual Character Day! On September 13th, 2017, there were over 133,000 events and people engaging from 150 countries from Guam to Thailand to the Central Africa Republic and many more. We saw so many amazing photos and videos come in from so many different types of events: everything from K-12 school districts to universities including UC Berkeley, Harvard, and MIT, to The U.S Airforce, to companies like Intel, to individual families across the country and world. We provide the materials, you create an event that works for you.”All classes took on a character trait to explore and express in the form of posters, crafts, presentations, and hands-on projects. Character traits included teamwork, kindness,  love of learning, bravery, fairness, humor, creativity, curiosity, and leadership just to name a few.

All classes took on a character trait to explore and express in the form of posters, crafts, presentations, and hands-on projects. Character traits included teamwork, kindness,  love of learning, bravery, fairness, humor, creativity, curiosity, and leadership just to name a few.

Many teachers integrated their character trait study into their current units and focused on developing the social skills of communication and collaboration with cadets.

Character Day was an effective way to bring our school together and set a positive tone at the start of the year.

About SMA Prep

Combining extraordinary academics with the highest military principles of camaraderie, focus, leadership, integrity, compassion, poise, honor, and respect, SMA’s mission is to graduate young men and women who will confidently define their personal and unique goals for success in a multicultural and globalized world. More information is available at

About Let It Ripple

Let it Ripple’s mission is to use film, technology, discussion materials, and live and virtual events to engage people in conversation and action around complicated subjects that are shaping our lives, and updating these topics through an engaging, accessible, 21st-century lens. Over the past ten years, we have created and distributed 30 films, engaged over 50 Million people in dialogue, pioneered a new way of making films we call “Cloud Filmmaking,” where we make films collaboratively with people all over the world, and founded a new model to start global conversations with screenings and discussions across all continents on the same day, with a combination of live and virtual events. More information can be found at