The first step, especially for an aspiring astronaut, can be both a small and a giant step.
For John Griffith, the backyard ceremony at which he was commissioned as a Marine second lieutenant meant mostly that he’d just passed go.
“It’s good to get the ceremony out of the way and move on — it’s just starting,” said Griffith, a La Cañada Flintridge resident who was commissioned before family, friends and neighbors on Sept. 2, less than a week after turning 20, the minimum age one can become a Marine officer, and only three months after graduating from Cal State Los Angeles with a mechanical engineering degree.
“It’s nice to see your kids work hard and achieve good things,” said dad Doug Griffith, a retired Marine attack helicopter pilot, whose son has fast-tracked his way through school and, now, into a leadership position within the military.
“John’s always been very aggressive about it, skipping high school and rushing to get his degree and going off to Officer Candidate School when he was 18,” Doug Griffith said. “He was the youngest one that the staff had ever seen go through there, because the average age is 25 or 26 and he was 18 and he made it through.
“It makes me even more proud of him, because I remember going through that; it’s not easy and I don’t know if I could’ve done that when I was 18. I was 21 and I was no John.”
Doug Griffith administered the oath of office to his eldest son — “I, John Robert Griffith, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic …” — after which John received his first salute, from Gunnery Sgt. Nick Martinez, to whom he handed a silver dollar as a symbol of the respect he has for his fellow Marines.
John Griffith’s abbreviated path to that patriotic, heartfelt ceremony included passage at Paradise Canyon Elementary School and at LCHS 7/8. While in middle school, he had the opportunity to tour SpaceX, — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. in El Segundo — with which he would intern for two summers.
Griffith’s only appearances on the La Cañada High School campus after middle school were as a volunteer assistant to science teacher Simon Constantinides, helping with a rocket workshop. That’s because when Griffith was 14, he enrolled at Cal State L.A. as part of the university’s University Early Entrance Program.
“School-wise, I thought it was all right,” he said. “It was pretty much study, take quizzes, homework, stuff like that.
“What was unique to me was that it was difficult getting the same kind of life experiences that you would get otherwise because you’re missing the high school experience, and you’re missing the college experience. So I had to learn a ton of stuff — how to conduct yourself and act in an adult environment. It was kind of a challenge having to get adjusted so quickly.”
Griffith also was exceptionally young when he arrived at Officer Candidate School at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. There, he underwent an intentionally difficult process by which the Marines, according to their website, determine “what you’re made of when times are toughest.”
“It sucked,” said Griffith, the only 18-year-old enrolled during his program. “It’s just really stressful and it’s really easy to get into a defeatist mindset and think you’re never going to make it through or you’re a piece of crap, but you have to power through that stuff — and it’s totally worthwhile.
“You understand that even though you may not be perfect, you have to understand you have the tools and duty to succeed. If you’re willing to put in the work, there’s no limit to where you can go.”
The next steps include six months at Basic School, where Griffith will join other Marines as they are, as Capt. Edison Feisal said, “groomed by experienced officers in preparation for his first assignment as a Marine Corps officer.”
That means, Feisal said, that they will be tasked with studying everything from how to conduct an attack in an urban environment to the proper etiquette for a proper dinner with foreign dignitaries.
After that, Griffith will attend pilot school.
And from there, well, the sky might not be a limit.
“I want to do well at Basic School, I want to do well in flight school, I want to be the best person I can be, that’s what I’m focusing on in the near term,” Griffith said. “This is a first step.”