Service comes naturally for Peach County senior

FORT VALLEY -- Perhaps Caleb Leo will take a moment for himself during Friday’s graduation ceremony, because he’s mostly thought about others for the last three years.

Leo’s 26-year-old sister, Emily, has had health complications that required more care than their mother, Sharon, could provide on her own. During his freshman year at Peach County High School, that began to visibly affect him.

“I could tell that the strain at home was really stressful for him at school,” said Sherry Hatchett, the guidance counselor for Leo’s classmates.

As a result, Leo decided to stay home for the next two years, where he was home-schooled by his mother, who has also dealt with health concerns.

“I just wanted to make sure I was home in case they needed anything, and it was really hard to focus in school with all that going on,” Leo said.

That arrangement lasted for two years, until Leo decided to return to Peach County High School for his senior year.

With his grandparents nearby to help, Leo was ready to return to the classroom. Hatchett helped him make sure his paperwork and schedule were in order to graduate on time, and Leo was pleased to interact with classmates again.

“Being at home ... you didn’t really see your friends often,” he said. “Once you come back, it’s like, ‘all these people want to be friendly and be friends.’ It was nice.”

That camaraderie also led him to the school’s theater department, where he said he’s found another circle of friends.

“Everybody’s really nice,” Leo said. “They’re very supportive of each other, and that’s what I like.”

Once he graduates, Leo will have just a few days before he begins the next stage of his life: service in the military. He’s already enlisted in the Marine Corps, and he’ll ship off to Parris Island, South Carolina, June 1 for basic training.

Hatchett said Leo has the tools to be successful in that venture.

“His strong mental character ... willing to do whatever it takes,” she said. “And I know that whatever he does will be to continue to support family and home.”

Leo said his mother was proud but probably wasn’t ready to see him leave just yet. Still, his family is part of the reason he enlisted.

“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to serve my country,” he said. “And all the people I love, I’ve always wanted to protect them.”

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.