From an early age, Ellsworth High School senior Jackson Bartlett's motivation in life has been earning his way into the military.

Bartlett decided in seventh grade that becoming an officer for the United States Army was what he wanted to do, and he knew what was required of him to reach such a goal.

"I used that as my driving force. If I'm going to be an officer, I'll have to be the best that I can be," Bartlett said.

Part of that meant taking on as many leadership roles as he could. Some of those were in sports, where Bartlett acted as captain of both the football and track teams. But others were more academic like helping to lead the student body as student council vice president.

He'll only hold the title for another few days, however, as the senior class prepares for graduation on Friday. Bartlett said he's excited for the day to come, but added that he expected his high school career to pass by a little slower.

"You find out that it actually does go fast," he said.

Bartlett has grown up in the Ellsworth School District, but hasn't spent his entire life growing up in Ellsworth. When he was in sixth grade his family moved to Hudson, Wis., but switching schools wasn't part of the plan. Since he was already used to his classmates, the teachers and the size of the school, Bartlett decided to remain an Ellsworth student. And he's glad he did, because soon he'll get to experience an important milestone with the people he's known since kindergarten.

"All these years together - to know we're going to college, it's great," he said.

While many of the classmates may be heading off to further their education, none is attending the same college as Bartlett.

With lots of leadership under his belt, the next step of his journey toward becoming an army officer is attending the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

Originally having set his sights on West Point in New York, Bartlett ended up touring VMI and liked what he saw. Starting this summer, the next several years of his life will be spent far away from Wisconsin.

Though Bartlett said he's excited about all of the upcoming changes, there's somebody else who's having a harder time dealing with the fact that he's not only moving across the country, but also joining the military.

"My mother's adjusting to it," Bartlett said, smiling.

His choice to enter the military is not only unique for his family, but his choice of college is unique for Ellsworth graduates.

"He was accepted to VMI, which is a first for our school," Ellsworth High School Principal Mark Stoesz said.

Bartlett may not be able to get advice from any alumni about what it's like to be enrolled at VMI, but he can definitely turn to one of his teachers to learn about being in the service. Ryan Casper, a social studies teacher and softball coach, is an officer in the military reserves.

"We're going to keep in touch while I'm at VMI," Bartlett said.

According to Bartlett's principal, there's no hurdle the senior won't be able to jump as he heads into the future.

"He's been one of our best leaders the last four years," Stoesz said. "He's done everything he can to challenge himself to the utmost."

Bartlett's teachers throughout the years have taken notice of his work ethic as well.

"He is highly self-motivated," Ellsworth math teacher Rich Powers said. "The sky's the limit for him."

Knowing how Bartlett's hopes for a military career have made it easier for him to stay motivated the past several years, he said he's interested in encouraging others to be the best they can be as well.

"I'm going to try to inspire other people to go out in the community and be leaders."

The details

What: 141 students graduating from Ellsworth High School

When: 7 p.m. Friday May 25

Where: Ellsworth High School, 323 Hillcrest St.

More info: 715-273-3904