Local students earn service academy noms
Each year, before students are even accepted to elite service academies such as the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis or U.S. Military Academy at West Point, they generally must earn the nomination of one of their U.S. senators or representatives to even be considered.
That in itself is a tremendous feat, but this year four local students each received multiple Congressional nominations to U.S. service academies. They include Jane Saunders of Bethany Beach, a student at Naples American High School and formerly at Indian River High School; Jung Son of Frankford, a student at Indian River High School; Joseph Gonski of Selbyville, a student at Valley Forge Military College; and Madelyn Crimmins of Millsboro, a Sussex Technical High School student.
Students nominated by the congressional delegation have not necessarily received appointments to the service academies, but they have proven a commitment to academic excellence and community service that made them worthy of consideration for an appointment. The congressmen emphasized their pride in nominating the students.
“These outstanding candidates have very bright futures ahead of them and are poised to contribute significantly to our nation’s future successes,” U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in a written statement. “Our service academies are doing a remarkable job developing tomorrow’s leaders, and that speaks to the high caliber of students who attend our academies. The integrity, intelligence, and dedication demonstrated by this group of nominees is inspiring, and I am proud to say they are among Delaware’s finest.”
Son was nominated to the U.S. Military Academy by U.S. Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) and by Carper; to the U.S. Naval Academy by Carper; to the U.S. Air Force Academy by Carney; to U.S. Merchant Marine Academy by Carper; and as a competitive alternate nominee by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).
Saunders was nominated to the U.S. Naval Academy by Carney and Carper, and she was a competitive alternate nominee for Coons.
Joseph Gonski was nominated to the U.S. Military Academy by Carney and Carper, and he was a competitive alternate nominee for Coons.
Madelyn Crimmins was nominated to the U.S. Military Academy by Carney and Carper; to the U.S. Naval Academy by Carper; and as a competitive alternate nominee by Coons.
“These nominations are the culmination of years of hard work and effort, both in school and out of school,” Carney said in a written statement. “I hope each person nominated, as well as their families, friends and communities, are very proud of their accomplishments. I am confident that, if offered an appointment, each one will represent Delaware with honor and distinction while in school and throughout a career in our nation’s armed forces.”
“The next few years will be challenging – academically, mentally and physically – but I am certain that they will rise to the challenge and come through this experience well-equipped to join the ranks of America’s fine military officers,” Coons said in a statement.
All of the students have had strong influences leading them to desire to serve. Son was inspired by his heritage. In the Korean tradition, all men serve in the military at some point.
“I really wanted to continue that tradition, but the conflict came up when I had to go to college, as well,” Son said.
He found a solution to the college-vs.-military conflict when he learned about the service academies during his sophomore year at Indian River High School.
Son has honed his leadership and community service skills during years as student government representative, FLAG (Foreign Language Activity Group) president, varsity athlete in swimming and other tennis and student focus-group participant. As a voice for the students, he said, he learned to hear and accurately express student opinion, even if it differed from his own.
Son said the academy cadets he met impressed him with their maturity level.
“I think academy really offers me that brotherhood, almost,” said Son. “I find that very interesting. I think it’s very good that they help hone each other’s weaknesses and improve as a group. You make friends for life.”
He expressed gratitude to his father and to mentors Fred Noll and Joseph Stewart, who were assigned to help students through the application process.
Saunders has long been living a military lifestyle. Her father still serves, and her mother has already retired from the Navy. In fact, the family is currently stationed in Italy, where Saunders will graduate from Naples American High School with other American teens. She lived in Delaware during her sophomore year of high school.
As the first captain of the Indian River High School swimming team and a rowing team member at her current school, Saunders was drawn to the Naval Academy for obvious reason.
“I’m in love with the water, so I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else,” she said.
She has served in the National Honor Society and was IRHS’s academic representative at the Governor’s School for Excellence. She expressed gratitude to the Indian River teachers who helped with her application and to the Bethany Beach Patrol and BBP Capt. Joe Donnelly, with whom she worked out last summer.
Many of the students are inspired by their families to apply for service academy. Gonski’s father was a colonel in the Vietnam War, and his older brothers attended West Point.
After Gonski graduated from high school, his family moved from Carroll County, Md., to Delaware, and instead of attending service academy immediately after high school, Gonski enrolled at the Valley Forge Military College. The academy is like a junior college and West Point combined, complete with academics and military training.
Moving to Delaware did make receiving nominations more difficult, said Gonski’s mother, Mary Ellen. Delaware only has one U.S. representative, whereas Maryland has representatives in eight districts, each of whom makes nominations.
“I’m very proud of him to have gotten the nominations, because we moved here and three older brothers went through the process in Maryland,” said Mary Ellen Gonski. “It wasn’t as daunting as coming here and starting all over,” she said of the elder brothers’ nomination processes.
Gonski attended Boys State, was a National Honor Society member and was a football captain who made first team All-County. Math is his strongest subject, so he hopes to study engineering. He said it felt great to receive the nominations.
“I’m happy,” Gonski said. “West Point still has the ultimate say,” he added, “but I’m still stoked. I really hope I get in.”
Crimmins’ grandfather had enlisted in the Army, but current events really influenced her own decision to apply. Although she was only in elementary school at the time, Crimmins was affected by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“That was kind of the turning point in my life,” she said. “I started researching academies and decided that was something I wanted to do.”
At Sussex Tech, Crimmins is a JROTC battalion commander, participating in the drill team and radar team. The National Honor Society member also swims competitively and has attended the Naval Academy’s summer seminar. She hopes to further study criminal justice, law or international relations.
Notably, Congressional nomination does not necessarily lead to enrollment. Each academy only enrolls five appointees from each member of Congress. That can mean only one or two students are accepted into each new class.
“But it’s a great experience to go through the process,” Crimmins said. “It’s literally one of the toughest application processes. … Whatever the result is, every kid that applies is better just because of the achievement of applying. It’s all about the steps involved.”
After writing essays, obtaining recommendations and interviewing with the nomination committees in each Congress member’s office and the academies’ admissions committees, only a small number of students will be appointed. Many well-rounded students have yet to hear from the academies, but Crimmins said receiving a “qualified but not admitted” letter is still considered an achievement.