Austin High School
Lieutenant Colonel James Walker, who nominated Shawn Dillard as a Young Hero, wrote, “Courage and perseverance describe Shawn Dillard. Even though he is in pain every day, he displays the courage of one who has a heart bigger than most humans and the perseverance of one who believes if he can continue for just one more day, success will ultimately be his.”
Shawn is a senior at Austin High School in Decatur. In his short years, he has undergone at more than 15 surgeries, including two kidney transplants. His physical problems began at 6 months. His condition has been described by his doctors as a kidney disease. He went through his first kidney transplant. When his aunt Nadine Newsome (who had donated the kidney) woke, she learned that Shawn was in a coma. “I did not come here to preside over a death. I came here to celebrate a life,” she said. Aunt Nadine then bought party utensils, invited the other kids in the children’s ward to Shawn’s room, and started having a party. The children called his name and sang and wished him a happy birthday. In the midst, Shawn sat up and rubbed his eyes.
When he entered sixth grade, Shawn’s parents noticed that he was walking with a limp. An examination revealed that one of his legs was shorter than the other, so Shawn underwent leg and hip surgeries.
Shawn’s only working kidney began failing during his freshman year at Austin High School. His sister, Victoria Dillard, donated a kidney, and the two of them underwent another kidney transplant surgery.
Upon returning to school, Shawn expressed an interest in joining the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). His mother and senior Army instructor Lt. Colonel Walker were “skeptical.” Walker remembered a former cadet who had overcome physical limitations, however, and agreed to accept Shawn into the program. Shawn was immediately selected as a squad leader responsible for the morale and welfare of seven cadets. He performed his duties in an outstanding manner.
In 2007, Shawn was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. In 2008, he was selected as a member of the JROTC Rifle Squad and promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant. In 2009, Shawn was selected to attend the rigorous and challenging JROTC Non-Commissioned Officer Academy. In this course, he performed in such an outstanding manner that he was selected for the prestigious honor of carrying the unit banner during physical training and the graduation ceremony. After graduating from the academy, Shawn was promoted to the rank of Sergeant First Class.
Lt. Walker says of Shawn today, “I have been wearing the bars of an army officer for 37 years. I know a hero when I see one. Shawn Dillard is a hero.”