Class of 2009: Weber serves in National Guard, aspires to owning a restaurant
Editor's Note: This is the first in an ongoing series of stories focusing on some of the upcoming graduates of Worthington High School.
WORTHINGTON -- The young man pulled on his trenchcoat, then removed a card from his wallet.
"Here's my business card," he said.
Next to the National Guard logo on the paper rectangle, his name is listed: Nicholas Weber, Guard Recruiting Assistant.
Nicholas "Nick" Weber, the son of Julie Weber of Worthington and Paul Weber of New London, is a senior at Worthington High School, but he's also in the Minnesota National Guard, a business card-carrying member of A Battery of the 125th Field Artillery, based in Luverne. The youngest of four in his family, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Phil, and join the military.
"I was always playing with those green plastic Army soldiers, playing military games, watching movies like 'Black Hawk Down,'" Nick reflected. "My brother, well, he helped raise me, and he's pretty much been my role model. ... I knew I wanted to do this, not for the money, but to grow up.
"You have to be 17 years old to join, with parent consent," Nick continued. "Mom said I had to write a paper about it, about why I wanted to do it. 'If it's good enough, I'll let you join.' I wrote six pages, front and back. I don't think she was expecting that."
So, last summer, at the conclusion of his junior year of high school, Nick entered basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He was prepared for it to be tough, but didn't realize how much it would change his outlook and attitude. His training group was mainly other 17-year-olds in the same boat, with only a handful of older recruits.
"Phil had told me a lot, He told me to never stare a drill sergeant in the eye. You don't look at a drill sergeant directly, or they'll kill you. I picked out a spot a tree and never looked away from it," Nick shared. "... You want to do everything as quick as possible, as best as you possibly can."
In retrospect, Nick realizes he both hated and liked the basic military training.
"Every time I got dropped or smoked by a drill sergeant, I knew this was making me stronger," he reflected. "I go there for nine weeks and get all this physical training, free food, get to shoot these weapons, get to do all these cool things, get to go rappelling ... Think about it: It is fun, if you can get past the yelling. Now I understand that when somebody yells at me, it's because I screwed up, and if you screw up in the military, you can get somebody killed."
Nick returned to Worthington 40 pounds lighter, with a different perspective on life and new attitude.
"My mom told me that a lot of people had noticed that I was different -- more polite, more courteous," he related, adding with a smile, "It's probably worn off by now. But for two or three months, I had this same mindset. I had to go down to the counselor's office (in school) because I couldn't deal with the mindset of the kids in school, with the disrespect they had. Basic training changes you quite a bit."
As a member of the National Guard, Nick reports for duty once a month in Luverne. He had planned to go for advanced individual training as a tactical data systems specialist this summer, but there are currently no openings, so that training is on hold.
Some of Nick's other post-high-school plans have been altered, too. Currently employed as a cook at Perkins in Worthington, he was going to work for a year to save money for college. But there's buzz about his unit being deployed sometime in 2010, which could change his future plans dramatically.
"If I don't have my AIT done, I don't get shipped," he noted. "I do want to (serve my country), but I'd rather not go to Iraq."
Nick also doesn't want to leave behind his girlfriend of five months, Carissa Bergh, a sophomore at WHS. So he's pursuing the "college-first option," with the hopes of being able to stay stateside. He'd like to get a two-year business degree from Minnesota West Community and Technical College, then attend a two-year culinary program down the line, perhaps in Mitchell, S.D., in the hopes of someday owning his own restaurant.
"I was accepted at Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis, but I don't want to take out loans, and the tuition there is $42,000, and that doesn't including housing, food. It's cool that I'm accepted, but I don't have the money," he said.
Nick's interest in a culinary career developed in the last couple years.
"I moved up to my dad's for a year, spent my sophomore year in New London-Spicer," he explained. "My dad's an amazing griller, but steaks and burgers every other night gets old. ... So my mom sent me a bunch of recipes, and I just fell in love with it. I even baked stuff for my confirmation class up there. I got a job at Jimmy's Pizza and learned to make homemade pizza, and I'd make burgers like my dad, but do different things, like stuff them.
"In cooking, the possibilities are endless, and I love that."
A job-shadowing experience at the Carnaval Brazil restaurant in Sioux Falls, S.D., cemented Nick's ambition to become a chef. Ten years from now, he can see himself married and running a restaurant, perhaps not the four-star operation he aspires to someday, but a bar and grill that could be expanded to include a bakery and maybe a brewery.
But for now, Nick is focused on getting to graduation day and sorting out his military and career tactics.
"I just feel like I want to serve my country before my country can serve me, before it can give me the opportunity to have all the things I want -- a house, a job ... I've got to give something first.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm 30, 40 years old," he continued. "I'm not exactly book smart, but I know a lot of things other kids don't. I understand things better, I think. I've experienced a little bit more. I understand that it's not easy to go out and buy a house, get a good job. ... I know what I want to do. I just have to figure out when I'm going to do it and how I'm going to get the money to do it."