"Pull your head in" would be the advice Thomas Jenkins would give his 13-year-old self.
The former Queen Elizabeth College student, now 18, struggled at school and admits he wasn't the ideal classroom companion.
He breezed through bookwork and tried to "keep his nose clean" outside of class, but admits he would agitate others and was a nuisance to teachers.
"I just carried on a lot, annoyed others and nodded off in class . . . but I've come a long way from that," Mr Jenkins said.
He joined the school's first Service Academy intake in 2012, a military-style programme putting pupils on the straight and narrow, and has since transformed his attitude and behaviour. "It's really opened my eyes to what it's like when you grow up," Mr Jenkins said.
"If you do anything wrong at the academy you are punished with push-ups or, depending on how bad it is, miss out on class trips."
Tomorrow Mr Jenkins starts basic training with the navy at the Devonport Naval Base, where he will spends six months as a "grunt" learning the basics before starting an 18-month branch training schedule towards becoming an engineer.
He left school early after he was accepted to the navy and has spent the past six months in fulltime employment saving for his shift.
"I wanted to get a good work ethic and get used to waking up at like 4 in the morning," he said.
The hands-on nature of navy work and the opportunity to travel appealed to Mr Jenkins.
The journey to get there was tough but worth it, he said.
"If I could say something to my younger self, it'd be ‘Pull your head in and focus more' and if it wasn't for the academy I don't know what I'd be doing right now.
"I've learnt if you're serious about something, it's just right there if you work for it."
Service Academy director Lance Tahiwi said when Mr Jenkins joined the academy he had the ability but lacked the motivation. Now he had transformed into a motivated, driven young man. Since the academy started two graduates have gone into the armed services, with Iosefa Mataora joining the navy and Adam Burden the air force.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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