Sixteen years ago, America was shaken.
As terrorists hijacked four airliners to use as tools of warfare to murder nearly 3,000 people, one boy sat confused while radio reports of the coordinated attacks on American soil brought his mother to tears.
On Sept. 11, 2001, when millions were taken to their knees, the future for Michael Rundgren began to take shape.
“I had just turned three,” said Rundgren, the Waxahachie High School Class of 2017 salutatorian. “I remember the day it happened, I was in the car with my mom and it was in the morning. We heard it on the radio, and I remember my mom crying right after she heard it, so I have always just associated that with not being good because she was crying. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized what had really happened.”
Rundgren, the son of Michael and Hengameh Rundgren, will forgo the traditional transition from high school senior to college freshman, but not for a non-traditional gap year. No, instead, he will enlist in the United States Marine Corps. While serving his country, Rundgren plans to obtain a degree in physics so he can teach after his military retirement.
“Ever since I was old enough to understand what happened on 9/11 and I was old enough to understand that a terrorist was behind it, it kind of put something in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a part of what serves to combat that,” Rundgren said. “Whenever I see pictures of people who are suffering in the Middle East or how they are being forced from their homes, it just makes me think that, if I have the ability to help, then why not? Why shouldn’t I help? That has kind of been my mindset.”
As far as high school is concerned, Rundgren said the most important part of the public education experience was not the test scores he made or AP physics class he occasionally slept through. Nor was it directly tied to his role as drum major for the Spirit of Waxahachie Indian Band or the brief stint on the cross-country team before finding out his eyesight would disqualify him from the Naval Academy.
“To me, the most important part of school, more important than academics, is the social aspect because you get so close to a lot of people and even the teachers, so I will definitely miss that the most,” he explained. Rundgren also admitted that he did not know until a few weeks before graduation that he was, in fact, the salutatorian, which was cool — except for the whole speech part.
“The one thing about being number two is that I knew I would have to give a speech, so I kind of spent the last few years trying to move down to three so I wouldn’t have to give a speech,” he joked.
Even with the countdown to boot camp already underway, it is still standing in front of his high school peers, educators and the community that Rundgren said is the most nerve-racking endeavor on his schedule of things to do this summer.
Because he is “definitely” excited to stand and protect the red, white and blue.
“I don’t know that I am nervous to leave (for the Marines). More like I am just trying to anticipate what exactly I am up against,” Rundgren articulated. “I know there is going to be a lot of shouting and a lot of painful days, but I wouldn’t say nervous — just anxious.”
He added, “I want to write my own story of my life, and I am not going to let someone else do it for me, so I never felt like there was any pressure.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith