St. Mary’s senior Rosemary Weston is excited for her college experience — but says that the decision to attend was also “honestly very terrifying.”
That could be because she’s facing down “Plebe Summer” before she joins the rest of her classmates at the Naval Academy. Or perhaps because she’ll be a country away from her family and get limited vacations. It might be the additional five years’ minimum of active duty she’s agreed to in exchange for her estimated $400,000 scholarship.
All that considered, however, Weston says attending the academy was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
A veteran wrestler, she says not going would feel like backing out before a match: “You get this feeling like, I wish I didn’t have to, and if you didn’t have to you would just feel disappointed that all this work that you had done, everything you’d worked up to, that you just didn’t go for an opportunity that you had.”
Besides, she’s not alone in the process: Her classmate, Garrett Bates, who will enter West Point under a similar commitment to the Army, says he’s taken advice from Star Wars’ character Yoda, to “let go of the things you fear to lose.”
“I don’t feel too bad about signing away essentially … over 10 years of my life to the Army,” Bates says. “Because they are providing free school, free training and all that.”
Most high school seniors headed to college have a general commitment of at least a few years in mind. These two St. Mary’s students have committed many more.
Retired Naval Capt. Carol O’Neal, who interviewed Weston and worked with her throughout her application process, says it’s “huge” for “two people from the same tiny school to be accepted.”
With single-digit acceptance rates, both institutions rank among the nation’s most competitive admissions, and the application process is naturally more complicated. Weston and Bates, who met at the beginning of the school year as teammates on the school’s football team, both completed the Candidate Fitness Assessment, which tests speed, strength, coordination and agility.
Each also had to seek a nomination from a qualifying source. In November, they interviewed individually at U.S. Rep. Greg Walden’s office before a panel of decorated officers, including Brig. Gen. Frank Toney.
Bates, who aspires to become a physician, talked about balancing his obligation to help heal people with his duty to the Army. Weston says she fielded questions about her aspirations as a woman potentially entering the Naval Academy (women were 23 percent of the Academy’s 2017 graduating class). She’s dreamed of being the first female Navy SEAL.
They left their interviews with different levels of confidence: Bates says he felt Toney’s final comment of “Don’t screw this up” might have signaled that he earned the principal recommendation (he had, he would later learn). Weston felt less sure. She submitted applications to a few civilian colleges, including Boston University, Purdue and University of California, Davis.
They then entered a season common among their fellow seniors: They waited.
Bates says he was in statistics class when he got a call from Washington, D.C. Later, he listened to the voice mail left by Walden congratulating him for receiving the congressman’s principal nomination to West Point, his first choice among the military academies.
Lisa Bates (corrected), Garrett’s mother, says she “jumped like three feet in the air” when she got his text. “I’ve never had so much joy encompass me at one time,” she says.
Weston found out about her appointment in March, checking the online portal through which candidates apply.
Both her father, Cael Weston, and Lisa Bates say they get choked up thinking of their children’s success.
Cael Weston says his daughter is “a very powerful force in our family,” and that she stays up until early morning hours to make her grades.
Bates says her son “had to start deciding who he was going to be” through the rigors of the application process, which included transferring to St. Mary’s and picking up volunteer opportunities. Since being accepted, he’s sold things such as his PlayStation and his car to raise money for the down payment.
“I guess he pretty much gave up being a teenager and started the man process,” she says.
Rosemary and Garrett will have just a few weeks of summer vacation after graduation until they leave for “Plebe Summer” and “Beast Barracks,” which involve long grueling days of training and allows limited contact with family. It’s meant to prepare incoming midshipmen and cadets for the rigor of life in the academies and the armed forces.
Both say that the challenge is exactly what they were looking for in their next step.
“I never wanted to do ROTC — I just wanted the academies or nothing,” Garrett says with a smile.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.