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McKeon honors 16 graduates

• Each now heading to a U.S. service academy

Posted: June 15, 2008 1:49 a.m.
Updated: August 16, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Nicholas Jurado, 19, a Canyon High School graduate accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy, receives a certificate and an American Flag from Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon during the 2008 Academy Luncheon at City Hall on Saturday afternoon.

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Nearly 20 recent graduates from the Santa Clarita Valley and nearby cities were honored by U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon on Saturday during the congressman's annual academy luncheon, which offers appreciation and support to the graduates as they prepare to enter United States service academies or preparatory schools.

The luncheon, hosted at City Hall, included a special program to give thanks to Dr. Clyde Smyth, who is retiring after serving as the academy coordinator for McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, for 14 years.

The event brought together nine recent high school graduates from Canyon, Hart, Saugus and West Ranch high schools who will be enrolling in either the United States Air Force Academy, the United States Military Academy or the United States Naval Academy in the coming weeks.

All 16 attendees were given a U.S. flag and certificate by the Santa Clarita representative.

After remarks from Tom Dierckman, special assistant to McKeon, Robert Kay Jr. of the U.S., Air Force Academy gave words of advice to the recent students as they look ahead to their academy careers.

Kay recalled his years at the academy and noted that the three most important things for him were family, friends and faith.

He advised the group to not take their parents for granted and rather enjoy the time they have with them and lean on them for support.

"They will be the crutches you walk on when you have a tough time at the academy," he said.

He said while current relationships with boyfriends and girlfriends may fall apart throughout the years at the academy, Kay said the academy experience will open up new friendships.

As for faith, Kay said that although maintaining a religious and spiritual faith is important, maintaining a faith in their duties and a strong attitude is crucial.

One high school graduate who was honored was Canyon High School's Austin Wallerstein, who has been accepted to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Co.

Before the ceremony, Wallerstein said he was recruited to play football at the academy after spending three years at Canyon playing on the school's varsity team.

Although he said initially he did not plan to attend the academy, upon visiting the school, he found it to be a "beautiful place" and committed to the Colorado academy in January.

He first day at the academy is June 26.

While he was "pretty excited" to be at the luncheon surrounded by his successful peers, he is also looking forward to his time at the academy.

"I'm hoping to go in, get a great education, leave with a very good job and place in football," he said.

While giving his thanks to Smyth, McKeon reflected on the nearly 15 years the two have worked together to help students gain admission into the service academies.

"We got a lot of good appointees," he said.

McKeon was joined by representatives from the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Naval Academy in giving thanks to Smyth.

After the speeches, McKeon and his staff awarded Smyth with multiple awards of appreciation, including a letter from President George W. Bush and a book comprised of thank-you letters from academy graduates Smyth has helped throughout the years.

As he accepted the awards and plaque, Smyth told the crowd that military service is part of his life as he is the fifth generation to serve in the military.

After "some calculating" Smyth said he realized that he has been involved with the U.S. military for 56 years, which breaks down to 127 months.

"Today it ends, but it's been a thrill for me," he said before receiving a standing ovation from the appointees, their families and military officials.


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