Samuel Dawson was never one to follow the pack, he always wanted to be the one who leads, finds solutions to problems and helps others have a brighter future.
The 18-year-old will get to do just that when he graduates from Fresno State with his bachelor’s in classical studies in May and starts his career as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Dawson was one of the youngest officers candidates in his program at the Marine officer candidate school and trained alongside other candidates in their early to mid-twenties.
Dawson, who was born in Harrogate, England, to an American mother and an English father, spent most of his childhood in Chico, California, with his parents and two sisters. Not long after he was born, he and his family moved to Fresno County.
“I want to make the world a little safer for a few people,” Dawson said.
Growing up, Dawson loved proving to people that he was worthy of their respect and would do anything to ensure that others, and especially his loved ones, were safe. The thought of becoming an FBI agent, working for the CIA or being a Marine all seemed to fit a guy like Dawson, a guy who is unafraid of anyone who breathes the same air that he breathes.
“I’ve always been a fighter. It’s just a matter of finding something worth fighting for,” Dawson said.
When deciding for whom to fight, Dawson doesn’t even break a sweat because the way he sees it, there is nothing more fulfilling or ambitious than fighting for the few, the proud, the Marines.
“We are the first guys in. We kill people and then we leave and go somewhere else and do it again,” Dawson said. “That sounds pretty awesome.”
To prepare himself for a life of fighting, Dawson worked hard to improve his mental and physical strength. He did so by doing extensive strength training in the gym, immersing himself in the world of western boxing and taking on advanced courses while he was a student at Hallmark Charter School in Sanger, which enabled him to graduate at just 15 years old.
Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Dawson made his dream of becoming a Marine Corps officer official earlier in January when he walked into the recruiting office for the first time at 18 years old.
The idea of being an officer didn’t hit him until he got off a plane in Virginia and boarded a bus to Marine Corps Base Quantico. Immediately after arriving, the only things going through his head were all those times when he would watch military-themed films like “Full Metal Jacket” and think about how the men in the movie were portrayed.
“I walk in there, and I’m like, ‘it is about to get real, and it did,”’ Dawson said.
Moments later, Dawson and others who were there for the 10-week Marine Corps officer candidate school, got their gear and went into squad bay where they would spend a great deal of their time getting yelled at. Dawson noted that one thing that was stressed was working as a unit.
“You wake up in the morning. Everybody puts their left sock on at the same time and then their right sock and their pants,” Dawson said. “Everything is done as a unit, and when one part of the unit screws up, the whole unit gets punished for it. They break down your individuality and make you a part of the unit instead of a self-contained entity.”
Those who couldn’t stop “screwing up,” along with those who couldn’t handle the sleepless nights and the physically-exhausting standards, were sent home.
“There’s no recovery, so you just wake up in the morning feeling worse than you went to bed at night, and that really wears down on your mind,” Dawson said.
Throughout his time in candidate school, Dawson didn’t see it as being trained for anything. Rather it was about being screened and evaluated for leadership potential, something that can be noticeable in high-stressed situations.
“The Marine Corps has been around since 1775, and we’ve had organized, entry-level training for a long time, for the past century at least, in its current form. Over that time, the Marine Corps has honed the art of making life miserable to a very good degree,” Dawson said.
Aside from being a Marine Corps officer, another career path Dawson always thought of taking was becoming a boxer.
Dawson said he always loved the art of boxing because in boxing the winner is always determined by who has the most heart.
“There’s something raw and primal about it,” Dawson said. “You hit and you get hit and repeat the process for 45 minutes, and you are doing your best to kill the snot out of the other guy and he is trying to kill the snot out of you, and chances are only one of you is going to do it. It is a real test of what makes you a man.”
One boxer Dawson feels embodies that concept is Mike Tyson because of his confidence and the way he approached every fight as if he had nothing to lose.
“He’d go into the fight not thinking, ‘OK, I am going to win. I am going to knock him out,’” Dawson said. “He’d go into the fight saying, ‘I’m going to kill and there is no alternative. I’m just going to punch and punch straight through him.’”
A second career path Dawson would like to take on is teaching classics, a major he has grown to love throughout his time at Fresno State.
Initially an engineering major, Dawson had a change of heart when he took a humanities class with Dr. Bruce Thornton, who is also his mentor for his college of arts and humanities honors project.
The working title for his project is called “The Noble Savage as it is represented in media throughout history.”
“The Noble Savage principle is the idea that we as civilized societies like the U.S. get the idea that there is something innately noble, something innately beautiful about less-developed, less-civilized cultures, which pretty much often isn’t the case,” Dawson said.
“My paper is breaking down that idea that we idealize less-developed cultures. It is breaking down that idea and demonstrating its occurrences and demonstrating its fallacies from the beginning of recorded history to the present time,” he said.
Sydnie Vinuela, Dawson’s girlfriend and a fellow Fresno State student, said he is a very dedicated, focused individual.
“He decides what he wants to do, and he commits completely and just does it flawlessly,” Vinuela said.
“He is brilliant,” Vinuela added. “He is the smartest person I think I’ll ever know.”
Gunnery Sgt. Nathan Cuellar, who was Dawson’s recruiting officer, said the quality that stood out to him the most about Dawson was his dedication, maturity and confidence.
“That is what we look for at our candidate school, someone who is already mature, confident and displays leadership qualities,” said Cuellar.
He said Dawson is already a good leader, and the Marines will make him a better one.
“For such a young man he has a good command presence, which the Marine Corps helps builds upon, which will help make him a great leader,” Cuellar said.