Catholic Eagle Scout, AP student eyes military career

HILTON HEAD — He may be young, but 17-year-old James Rankin has built up quite a resume.
The high school senior has taken the rigorous International Baccalaureate diploma course, scored a perfect 5.0 on an additional AP chemistry exam, become an award-winning commanding officer of his high school ROTC unit, and was invited to the summer Leadership Academy at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
If that is not overwhelming enough, Rankin has achieved all this while participating in athletics and other extracurricular activities. One can only wonder where he found the time for hundreds of hours of volunteer labor while raising over $20,000 to complete a Stations of the Cross meditational boardwalk on the grounds of Holy Family Church. The 5-foot-wide, 200-foot-long walkway is for his Eagle Scout project.
Rankin is the son of Howard and M.J. Rankin. They are regulars at Mass and are all involved in church activities. Rankin has one brother, 24-year-old Josh, who has autism.
“I think growing up watching his older brother work through so many challenges has had a huge impact on James, resulting in the deep empathy he shows towards people,” his mother said in an interview with The Miscellany.
Rankin attends Hilton Head Island High School where he was recently named a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. He is a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta (mathematics honor society) and the Spanish National Honor Society. He also is a S.C. Junior Scholar and consistently on the principal’s honor roll with a current GPA of 4.55.
His ultimate goal is to earn an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy or attend a high-ranking engineering college on an ROTC scholarship to study biomedical or systems engineering.
After military service he hopes to pursue a master’s degree or beyond in biomedical technology in order to conduct research.
“I have always been fascinated by the study of the military and sciences and feel very blessed to be able to pursue both dreams,” Rankin said. “I would ultimately like to find ways through scientific research to help soldiers on the battlefield.”
“When James was quite young, we bought him a copy of the book ‘How Things Work,’ ” his father said.
In his fourth year in the schools’ Naval Junior ROTC program, he has been appointed Cadet Commanding Officer for 2008-2009. He is a member of the academic, air rifle, drill and orienteering teams; has won numerous awards and commendations; and held several positions as an officer.
One of Rankin’s biggest supporters is his principal Amanda O’Nan.
“James is a fine young man,” she said. “I wish I had many students like him. If I could pick someone I would like my young son to grow up to be like, I would choose James.”
In his spare time, Rankin also is a member of the cross-country and lacrosse teams, and the competitive sailing club. But scouting holds a special place in his heart.
“There are a dozen guys that started out together in Cub Scouts and we’ve stayed at it all these years,” he said. “We determined a long time ago that we wanted to become Eagle Scouts and it’s been great to see that come to fruition for everyone.”
Father Hayden Vaverek, former pastor of Holy Family, was an early and ardent supporter of Rankin’s Eagle Scout project. The military chaplain, who is on assignment, came back to bless the stations in a special dedication ceremony May 11.
“Father Hayden has been a tremendous influence in my life,” Rankin said. “He, along with my parents, have really taught me about the importance of stewardship to God and service to others. It all really comes down to commitment followed by action.”
“In addition to being a priest, Father Hayden also is an active lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve,” he said. “I have been inspired by his ability to try so many different things that he loves, do them well and still give service to others.”
On the surface, Rankin has a quiet demeanor. But those who know him agree that he also has the confidence to converse easily with anyone about most any topic and never shies away from a leadership role. Among his friends, he is known for his wry sense of humor as well as paintball and Xbox 360 prowess.
“James is in many ways a typical teenager who, because of his accomplishments and independence, can give us great joy or great challenges at any given moment,” Mrs. Rankin said. “We are very blessed to be his parents.”