Sumter's Next Generation, presented by CCTC: SHS' Walcott becomes first district student accepted to Coast Guard Academy in 12 years, expresses gratitude to family and school for the opportunity


"Better late than never" would be a fitting phrase to describe the journey of Sumter High School senior Eriyonna Walcott.

Native to Sumter and no stranger to being a team player, Eriyonna juggles a plethora of extracurricular activities - including captain of the Sumter High Swim Team and being a devoted member of several clubs. But her biggest responsibility is her role as vice core commander, or second-in-command, of the school's Air Force JROTC program. Joining in her 10th-grade year, Eriyonna acquired skills in leadership, time management and confidence that will play a big part in the next chapter of her life: the Coast Guard Academy.

Her aspirations of serving in the nation's Coast Guard first made waves as a little girl who clung to the lessons and legacy of her uncle.

"My uncle Eddie - ever since I was a little girl, I liked clinging to him. He retired [from the Coast Guard] I want to say in May 2020; I think he did it for over 23 years, maybe more. He was a commander, and during his ceremony, he had a group of girls in his color guard. Watching it, I was tearing up like, 'Oh my gosh, this is amazing,'" she shared. "At the ceremony, he told me, 'I did this for you, and I want to show you that there's a lot more opportunities in the world.' Ever since that point, I've been 100% committed to the Coast Guard."

With the support of her family, friends and Gear Up College Support Specialist Audrika Gadson, Eriyonna applied for the Coast Guard Academy. Initially excited, she started to feel doubt over time, thinking, 'What if I don't get accepted?' But a wise man once said, "Walcott, you have this; this [is] nothing to sweat about," she recited. That wise man was Sumter High's AFJROTC Sgt. Duane Kyles.

"'You're well-rounded, you have the grades, you have the skills, the sports, everything; you got it,'" Eriyonna recalled the comforting words. "When he told me I was the first person out of his time being ROTC instructor to be accepted, I was like, 'There's no way.'"

But there was a way. Eriyonna is the first student from Sumter School District in 12 years to be accepted into the Coast Guard Academy - and potentially the only South Carolina student to be accepted this year. She toured the Coast Guard Academy in summer 2023, mingling with students from California, New York and Oregon and learning from those in the profession she dreams of. Eriyonna looks forward to graduation from high school this May and heading to the academy on July 15. Once there, she'll spend three weeks in orientation before hopefully heading off to preparatory school for 10 months at one of her top two choices: Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island or Georgia Military College.

Eriyonna was inspired by her uncle to see beyond the lines of her hometown, and she hopes her journey will be an inspiration for young boys and girls who dream the same as she does.

"As long as you're determined, you can make it happen. I started late in my journey, but I was committed, and I was determined to make it happen. No matter how many people talk down on you or if you just don't feel motivated, just keep your head straight and do anything that you possibly can in your power, and it'll happen."