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McKeon honors 24 graduates

Each are heading to a U.S. service academy or preparatory school

Posted: June 21, 2009 10:23 p.m.
Updated: June 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

U.S. Air Force Academy appointee Margarita Balish, left, is presented a U.S. flag by U.S. Representative Howard P. "Buck" McKeon at a luncheon honoring 24 military academy appointees at the Santa Clarita Activities Center on Saturday.

Twenty-four recent local graduates will soon be off to United States service academies or preparatory schools, but not without first having received proper recognition from Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon.

Representatives from the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Naval Academy joined McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, in offering appreciation and support to the graduates at the congressman's annual academy luncheon on Saturday.

"It's a tough selection process and they're the crème of the crop," McKeon said.

The luncheon also gives the grads an opportunity to meet fellow academy members they can possibly turn in hard times, the congressman said.

"It's a tough thing to get through these academies," he said. "It's a great education and they receive great leadership training, but it's tough. They really try to break them down and rebuild them."

All 24 academy and prep school appointees from the 25th Congressional District received a U.S. flag and certificate by the congressman.

After remarks from Tom Dierckman, special assistant to McKeon, Midshipman Robert Kay Jr. offered his congratulations to the graduates along with some words of advice based upon his experience in the Naval Academy.

"Just remember your ABCs," attitude, blessings and camaraderie, he said.

Time spent at the academy can be great and frustrating - what's going to make it great is a positive attitude, Kay said.

"A little bit of cynicism isn't too bad but having too much is just having a negative attitude," he said.

Kay advised the group to appreciate their blessings of family and faith.

"Make sure that when you leave home, you leave home on a good note," he said.

While maintaining religious faith will be important, "having faith in the mission you are signing up for" is essential, Kay said. That mission is to continue to defend this country, he said.

As for camaraderie, Kay told the group their academy friends will be long-lasting and they will never have greater friends than those who share their experiences.

"Whenever you feel down or low, you can always look up and there will always be someone's hand to pull you up," he said.

Golden Valley High School graduate Cameron Dann said the "challenge" of pursuing an academy education is what lured him to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Dann said he had never really considered applying to a service academy until he scored in the top 99th percentile of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery - a test given to those who want to enlist in the U.S. Military. Instead of enlisting, Dann said staff at the Military Entrance Processing Station advised him to consider other routes.

Dann looked into an Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, or ROTC. But one day, he shockingly received a notice that he was a candidate for the Naval Academy.

"It floored me and my parents," he said.

Dann is looking forward to a combined experience of military training, college education and a new perspective on life.

Jacob Mijares, a Canyon High School grad, leaves for the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Wednesday.

"I always wanted a job that I could love waking up for and going to everyday," he said. "I would see the jets occasionally streak across the sky. The more I looked into it, the more possible it sounded, so I went for it."

Mijares said it was a privilege to be recognized by the congressman.

Johadel Caro, of Lancaster, said four years at the Naval Academy will be challenging but she also knows "it will bring out the best in you."

A statement from McKeon, who was confirmed as ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, echoed Caro's.

"You're going to see amazing growth in each of you because you're going to be trained to be leaders," McKeon said to all 24 appointees.


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