Of all the memories of high school, Parkash Garcha’s fondest memory was his time spent hanging out in an old bathroom. The restroom, turned supply room, was a common spot for community amongst him and his friends in Junior ROTC. Parkash recalls staying in his school from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day just to be with his battalion.
“I just spent 11 hours in school with no apparent reason,” he said. “Like, I don’t even remember going to class or anything, all I remember about high school is Junior ROTC, Junior ROTC, Junior ROTC.” Parkash joined his high school’s Junior ROTC program to, “be a part of something bigger.”
“I heard so many good things about it and I’ve always had a sense of patriotism,” Parkash said. “I always knew I wanted to do something helping people doing that and being a better person, so I figured that would be a good experience.” While in Junior ROTC, Parkash encountered many experiences only few get to witness. He worked in S4 Logistics as a sophomore, organizing various uniform pieces and recording them in a database for the U.S. Army. He marched with his battalion in the annual Veteran’s Day parade in New York City, having led the parade in his senior year, and in his junior year represented New York State in the 70th Anniversary for D-Day in Normandy, France.
"I was forced to deal with something that a third grader shouldn’t have to deal with at that point. It made me stronger, because I knew that I take pride in my culture."- Parkash Garcha
All of these accomplishments could not compete with that of becoming Drum Corp Commander and Battalion Commander in his senior year of high school, a goal he strove for ever since beginning the program. “I spent every single moment of my high school career to being in that program, doing stuff for that program,” Parkash said.
Before his high school journey even began, Parkash was often bullied because of his faith. He grew up in Queens, NY amidst a heated post 9/11 environment centered on patriotism and anti-terrorism. Being an American Sikh, Parkash received the backlash of these tensions. In the third grade, he recalls a bully having called him things like a terrorist and Osama bin Laden. These comments shook his beliefs to its foundations. “I was forced to deal with something that a third grader shouldn’t have to deal with at that point,” he said. “It made me stronger because I knew that I take pride in my culture and I know that that’s really ignorant of people to say [to] a child. It made me really value my culture because…there are a lot of people who just aren’t educated.”
These experiences inspired Parkash to help explain to others about his faith and his culture as to bridge understanding between him and his peers. As he got older, his peers looked beyond what his middle school bullies saw and perceived him just as he was: a friend and a mentor. “I was just kind of a completely different person in that sense so I really didn’t take it to offense,” he said. “I just gained a lot of respect from a lot of people to the point where…when people signed my yearbook and I go back to read what everyone wrote, people were like ‘I thank you for what you said one time. I’m staying in [Junior ROTC] because of you.’”
Parkash Garcha is a former member of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program at Marist. His immense love for military service began when he enrolled in Junior ROTC during his freshman year of high school. His dedication to the program is illustrated by his service as Drum Corp Commander and Battalion Commander during his senior year of high school. In addition to his sense of patriotism, Parkash is deeply involved in his Sikh faith and enjoys educating others about his beliefs. He also enjoys celebrating his culture as Vice President of Zeta Psi, the most diverse fraternity on campus. He hopes to one day continue serving his country, optimally as an FBI agent.
When not partaking in Junior ROTC activities, Parkash enjoyed spending time with his family. He has two older siblings and was raised by his grandparents in addition to his mother and father. He credits much of his upbringing to his grandfather, who has become his role model. “He’s very selfless,” he explained. “He acts like he has tough skin but he’s really soft. I love that.” One of his favorite pastimes to do with his family is play the Legend of Zelda video game series. A timeless tradition, he remembers being introduced to Ocarina of Time on a Nintendo 64 when he was a little boy, and now enjoys playing Breath of the Wild with his family on their new Nintendo Switch.
Coming to Marist College presented Parkash with numerous opportunities. He is currently a junior majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in Social Work. Aside from continuing his service with the ROTC, Parkash also served for awhile as a Marist Ambassador and tour guide and is currently the Vice President of his fraternity, Zeta Psi. “Marist should be very, very proud to have Parkash as a student,” said Randi Blumenthal-Guigui, Criminal Justice Internship Director and lecturer at Marist. “I cannot imagine another student who might better exemplify the excellence in studies, character, ambition and charisma of the quintessential Marist student.” She goes on to say, “he does what is right in all circumstances and leads with quiet charm and the admiration he enjoys from his peers. Parkash is a humble, yet effective, unifier.”
While ROTC has been a place of much joy for Parkash in high school, it has turned into the opposite here at Marist. In the process of submitting his religious accommodation waivers to the ROTC, Parkash had to retake a medical screening which brought his colorblindness to light. He had always known that he was colorblind, but he never viewed it as a handicap from serving his country and partaking in ROTC. However, since these findings disqualified him from commissioning, Parkash decided to withdraw from the program at the end of last fall’s semester. “It just sucks because I want to do it myself but I also feel like I let other people down,” commented Parkash. “I’m just telling myself if it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t meant to be.”
For the continuation of his time here at Marist, Parkash will continue in playing an active role in Zeta Psi and is currently seeking to become a Resident Assistant. While he cannot do so in the military, Parkash hopes to one day continue serving his country as an agent for the FBI. “I cannot imagine Parkash not handling anything in life without good humor, calmness and acceptance,” said Blumenthal-Guigui. “I cannot imagine anyone, anywhere ever saying a negative thing about Parkash. He has superior character, temperament and intelligence.”
“I think Junior ROTC really helped me grow in terms of becoming very confident about my culture and also just who I am in general,” he said. “Being able to speak out, being able to give commands through the army setting, and challenging myself, motivating myself, working hard, and being relentless in general.”