The hope of our nation...
Last year, around this time the family was hanging out at our favorite bagel place reading the newspaper when I came across a story in the metro section about a high school senior from South Atlanta who was more focused on how to achieve her goal, than complaining about how hard it might be to actually get there. Brittany’s mother had fallen on hard times and was fighting unemployment and all the trials that come with it. Brittany and her mother were moving from one extended stay hotel to the next trying to stay in the same school district so she could finish out at the at the school she had started at that year. During her junior year, a favorite teacher suggested to Brittany that she give junior ROTC a try. As with most teenagers, she hated it at first, but quickly began to like the discipline and structure it provided her in her otherwise, unstable life outside of school. It was not long after signing up for junior ROTC that she set a goal for herself: Brittany was determined to go to West Point.
As the story related, she had a number of huge hurdles that she would have to get over if she was going to make it happen. In addition to the erratic state her home life was in, she wasn’t academically or physically strong enough to meet the standards of acceptance to the academy. Many kids would just give up. Too many/too big obstacles most would say. Not Brittany. She relied on her ROTC advisers, school counselors, and her mother's unfledgling support to undergo self assessment and plot a course to meet the challenge. She worked hard over the next two years to get physically fit and put in long hours after school getting her grades up. This was tough since on many nights homeless shelter curfews meant that she couldn’t stay for the extra help at school.
The story climaxed with Brittany being accepted to the USMA Prep School in Ft. Monmouth, NJ. The article went on the say that, with only a couple of weeks left before she had to report, she was having a hard time raising the $600 needed to buy the basic necessities she would be required to have upon arrival at the prep school. I was so inspired by this young women's determination that I immediately contacted the articles author and the Alva family made a pledge to help. I wrote her a note along with my check and wished her the best of luck. I've thought about her from time to time over the last year and wondered how she was handling the rigors of army life at USMAPS.
Well, Sunday my questions were answered. According to a FULL PAGE article that started on the front page, Brittany graduated at the top of her class and was accepted to the USMA class of 2011. She was given the Commandant’s Award for her academic achievement and leadership prowess. Oh yeah, turns out that the Alva’s weren’t the only ones who were inspired by Brittany’s story a year ago. The article stated that Atlantans had donated close to $30,000 towards Brittany’s cause. Money she will need to get her set up as a new cadet at West Point when she reports for “Beast Barracks” the first week of July (while tuition is waved at the academies, cadets are on the hook for everything else).
The Alva family is hoping to get up to West Point for a football game this fall and I will most definitely be looking for Brittany's cadet company in the crowd so that I can personally shake her hand, introduce her to my daughter, and let her know that she is a hero to me. I’ve always contended that many citizens of this country just don’t know how great these kids are that go to our nations service academies. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet New Cadet Brittany O’Connell, USMA Class of 2011. Good luck young lady and BEAT NAVY!