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Local West Point students share experiences, promote military academy to high school students

  • Emily Buck, a West Point Academy cadet from Bow, facing, talks with Rebecca Shatney, 16, a Hopkinton High School student interested in applying to the school, on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Emily Buck, a West Point Academy cadet from Bow, facing, talks with Rebecca Shatney, 16, a Hopkinton High School student interested in applying to the school, on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Emily Buck, a West Point Academy cadet from Bow, calls her classmate Parker Callaghan, after leaving a student meeting on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013 at Hopkinton High School. Callaghan, a cadet from Concord, was making trips to visit with students in Plymouth and Laconia. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Emily Buck, a West Point Academy cadet from Bow, calls her classmate Parker Callaghan, after leaving a student meeting on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013 at Hopkinton High School. Callaghan, a cadet from Concord, was making trips to visit with students in Plymouth and Laconia.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Rebecca Shatney, 16, a Hopkinton High School student interested in applying to West Point, rests her hands on the set of questions she brought for her meeting with Emily Buck, a West Point cadet from Bow, on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013 at Hopkinton High School.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Rebecca Shatney, 16, a Hopkinton High School student interested in applying to West Point, rests her hands on the set of questions she brought for her meeting with Emily Buck, a West Point cadet from Bow, on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013 at Hopkinton High School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Emily Buck, a West Point Academy cadet from Bow, talks with Rebecca Shatney, 16, a Hopkinton High School student interested in applying to the school, on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Emily Buck, a West Point Academy cadet from Bow, talks with Rebecca Shatney, 16, a Hopkinton High School student interested in applying to the school, on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Emily Buck, a West Point Academy cadet from Bow, facing, talks with Rebecca Shatney, 16, a Hopkinton High School student interested in applying to the school, on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Emily Buck, a West Point Academy cadet from Bow, calls her classmate Parker Callaghan, after leaving a student meeting on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013 at Hopkinton High School. Callaghan, a cadet from Concord, was making trips to visit with students in Plymouth and Laconia. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Rebecca Shatney, 16, a Hopkinton High School student interested in applying to West Point, rests her hands on the set of questions she brought for her meeting with Emily Buck, a West Point cadet from Bow, on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013 at Hopkinton High School.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Emily Buck, a West Point Academy cadet from Bow, talks with Rebecca Shatney, 16, a Hopkinton High School student interested in applying to the school, on Tuesday morning, November 26, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

As college juniors, Emily Buck and Parker Callaghan have standard pieces of wisdom to share with high school seniors: Test out of as many classes as you can, don’t expect great food and get ready to meet some of the best friends you’ll ever have.

But, as cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, they also have a few pieces of advice that you won’t hear from most college students or admissions reps: Get your medical examination soon, don’t forget to request a congressional nomination and be prepared to lose most of your free time.

Buck and Callaghan graduated from Bow and Concord High schools, respectively, in 2011 and are now juniors at West Point in New York. Home for Thanksgiving break, they volunteered to visit several area high schools to talk to students interested in attending West Point about everything from the nomination process to what life is like on campus. They are part of a class of roughly 1,130 students, which includes one other student from Bow and two from Bishop Brady.

New Hampshire typically has a strong representation at West Point for the state’s population, and about 20 students across eight schools came to talk with Callaghan and Buck this week. To apply, students must receive a congressional nomination, and all students’ tuition is funded by the Army.

“The very fact that you’re selected means our government is saying this is someone who we want to serve in our Army and lead our young people in whatever their mission is,” said Shawn Buck, Emily’s father and an admissions liaison. He and the two students began their day Monday at Bow High School.

Coming out of high school, adapting to West Point can be difficult, the students said, especially learning to balance training and academics.

The first six weeks are basic training, then students begin their academics. In addition to academics, students must participate in military activities and athletics. As first-year students, or “plebes,” there is very little freedom.

“If you like always getting to do only what you want to do, it will be really difficult for you,” Buck said yesterday in an interview before speaking with interested students. She is majoring in environmental science and pre-med.

“It’s no joke,” added Callaghan, a civil engineering major. “And a lot of people fail because of time management issues.”

West Point has always been a part of Buck’s life, as her dad attended and later taught at the academy when she was a child. Living at West Point, she met several female cadets who became role models. Buck’s official acceptance came late in her senior year because she needed a waiver from a medical disqualification. By then, she had been accepted to several other colleges, but on the last day possible, she chose West Point.

“It was kind of like, you’ll never get to do this again, and not many people do in the first place,” she said.

Callaghan never planned on West Point and resisted statements that he’d follow in the footsteps of his older brother Jack, who also goes to West Point. But when he visited Jack on campus during his senior year of high school, Callaghan’s whole perspective changed.

“I had no intention of even considering West Point,” he recalled. “Then the first time I visited West Point, which was the end of my brother’s basic training, I just saw the campus and I was like, this is going to be tough to turn down. Then I started hearing the stories and I was like, this sounds like a pretty good idea.”

At West Point, students don’t have to commit to full military service until the beginning of their junior year. Callaghan and Buck said that, if accepted, it’s wise to go to West Point right away because it’s easier to go first and leave than to start somewhere else and try to transfer later. After participating in a commitment ceremony at the start of junior year, students are required to complete five years of active-duty service upon graduation, followed by three years of reserve duty.

“You shouldn’t go into it with the mentality that you could just drop out at any time if you want to. You should obviously want to get through,” Callaghan said. “But it’s not immediately so high-pressure that as soon as you show up for day one you’ve signed your life away forever.”

Neither will find out where they’ll be stationed after graduating until the beginning of their senior year. Each student provides their top three choices for the Army branch they’d prefer to serve in, and students are assigned based on academic ranking. Buck hopes to enter medical school, which requires a recommendation from West Point that only 2 percent of students receive. Her second choice is the medical service corps. Callaghan said his preference switches all the time, but right now his first choice would be military intelligence.

Both students said their most memorable experiences at West Point so far came during the summer. Last summer, Buck went to Tripler Army Medical Center to do research with medical service officers and shadow medical corps officers.

“That was an opportunity I never thought I’d have,” she said. “If you’re a go-getter and you can find an (individual project) that you think is interesting, there’s so many opportunities, and that confirmed my desire to go to medical school and be an Army physician.”

Callaghan spent his summer as a platoon sergeant in charge of four squads of 10 cadets. Many of the people under his command were his age or older, such as students who served in the military before attending West Point. He was 19 at the time, and said he learned a lot from his fellow cadets, including one who had served in Afghanistan.

“I had to find out how I could lead them, because they had all this experience and I wanted to learn from them as much as they could learn from me,” he said. “It was humbling and I definitely learned a lot about myself as a leader.”

Through these experiences and daily life at West Point, both students said they’ve formed strong friendships that have helped them through long days and grueling schedules. When you go to West Point, they told the interested students, you’ll make lifelong friends.

“No matter how close you are with your high school football team,” Callaghan told one student, “it will never be anything close to how close you’ll be with your friends at West Point.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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