Blogs > Laura Kessel's blog

Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Full lives, full of promise in military academy interviews

When the big white envelope shows up in my mailbox at work, it’s like Christmas morning.

I pull it out, knowing full well what’s in it, but I still check the return address to make sure it’s the gift I’m expecting.

Sure enough, two weeks ago when I turned it over after pulling it from the cubbyhole, the name “David Joyce” stared back at me. Then, just like 5-year-old me did with the presents my mom had hidden around the house all those years ago, I hustled out of sight and got out the scissors, cutting off the top just so, making sure not to make a slice into any of the contents.

A peek inside found the greatest gift of all — information packets from the 14 young men and women I’d be meeting Dec. 7 as part of their process to secure a nomination to one of the United States military academies.

The students are seniors at high schools in the 14th Congressional District, which Joyce serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. Joyce is in the first year of his first term, after replacing Steve LaTourette.

LaTourette did these events just about every year, inviting everyday citizens from his district to form a panel that gets to quiz the youngsters hoping to score an appointment to attend either the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.; U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.; or Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.

The Coast Guard Academy does not require a nomination from a member of Congress, the vice president or the president.

As with most years in recent time, the Naval Academy got the most action on interview day. What is regarded as one of the top engineering schools in the country is highly popular among seniors seeking appointments, both for those studies and for its reputation as one of the toughest schools around.

So, no, these are not young adults looking to just get by.

Once I receive my packets, I carve out time in the evening to sit and read them over. I look for the tiniest facts about the students — why did this one take up the tuba; what does the one who’s volunteered more than 1,100 hours get out of that much time serving the underprivileged; and when’s the last time the girl with all As in high school actually got a B?

I enjoy reading about them and then meeting them, trying to figure out just how accurate were those who wrote letters on their behalf.

A St. Ignatius senior from Sagamore Hills had what I consider the greatest comment in any packet I’ve read during my five years of sitting on this panel:

“His papers were almost completely free from the annoying grammatical errors that plague the writings of most people his age.”

It’s a statement only an editor could love. Going in to the interviews, I knew I had to find out how he got so good at it.

A little more background on him, before I share his answer: He scored a 32 on the ACT and a 2280 on the SAT. Perfect scores are 36 and 2400.

He said in his personal essay that he’s long known the military was for him.

“From my earliest days, I’ve been inculcated with the importance of our nation’s armed forces…”

If you’re wondering, “inculcated” means, according to, “to implant by repeated statement or admonition; or teach persistently and earnestly.”

When it was my turn to address him, I honed in on the writing.

His response: “I just like it.”

Sigh. And let’s move on.

We met a young man from Perry High who wants to be a Marine, “because of the way they carry themselves.”

He pointed us to his transcript and took head-on a few Cs in his early high school years.

“I’m not the smartest guy in this room, but I’ll work harder than most.”

He said he had to learn something basic when he got into high school.

“I did not know how to study, at all,” he said, explaining the special value in taking advanced placement courses. “AP classes taught me how to study.”

Every year, one candidate stands out at the end for me. It’s usually not the academics, or athletic skill, or even the military dream.

This year, it was a senior at Jefferson High School in Ashtabula County.

She caught the attention of all of us with a transcript that showed off straight As from eighth grade.

“When is the last time you got a B?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a B,” she said, looking off in the distance, clearly wracking her brain to remember the wayback of her education.

When asked to list a leadership failure from her recent past and what she learned from it, she focused on the lost potential of having her favorite extracurricular activity, Model United Nations, dropped due to budget cuts.

What did she do about it? She became the adviser herself and kept the team going and scoring victories at meets.

But when I asked about her decision to quit softball after earning a letter as a freshman, she left me in tears.

She said it was incredibly hard, but that she knew she needed to get a job, in order to help her family make ends meet and pay for things she needed. She said, though, that when she went to sign up again, after having to get a second job, her coach said she’d have to pick between work and sports to be able to take part.

This 17-year-old described how hurt she was by the coach’s demands, and failure to understand the situation. She said she was easily able to walk away.

Anyone want to talk about the maturity level of today’s teenagers?

Then there’s the senior at Kenston, who’s a first-generation American. He said his father emigrated to America from Austria.

He’s a volunteer, a decorated athlete, and a member of the National Honor Society.

But, he said what sets him apart is a level of patience he’s gained from a significant number of tragedies that have occurred in his 17 years. Among them was the death of his uncle, Geauga County Juvenile/Probate Court Judge Charles “Chip” Henry, the victim of a drunken driver.

He said he thinks constantly of how far he and his father have come in their lives.

“He started from nothing,” he said. “To go from that to be considered for acceptance to one of the finest institutions, means more than I can put into words.”

I’ll give it a try.

Regardless of what happens in this process, my friend, you and the others I met on Dec. 7 are superstars.

As happens every year when I leave Lakeland Community College, I’m resting easier knowing that you and so many more like you are the leaders of the future.

We’re in good hands.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home