The Windermere resident and Olympia High School graduate will enter the U.S. Naval Academy at the end of the month.
It’s no small feat to receive an acceptance letter to a United States service academy — and it’s an even bigger accomplishment to be accepted into three.
Thomas Kelly, a Windermere resident and recent graduate of Olympia High School, learned in March that he had a big decision to make — whether to attend the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy or West Point Military Academy. After going through the interview process with each school, he ultimately selected to enter the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
The process for mapping out his future actually began last summer.
“The first hoop to jump through is the nomination,” he said. “To get an appointment to a U.S. service academy, you have to get a nomination from your local congressman (or senator). For me, it was (U.S. Rep.) Val Demings or (U.S. Sen.) Rick Scott or (U.S. Sen.) Marco Rubio. The first step was making sure I had a nomination.”
And there are multiple steps to get to that point.
He had to write essays; obtain two or three recommendation letters from teachers or mentors; and gather his school schedule, grades, and SAT and ACT scores.
“You mail those in to the respective offices, and then each office determines whether or not you are a competitive application,” Kelly said. “If you are, you are invited to go before a board, they ask questions … and they ultimate decide which 10 will be nominated.”
He was interviewed by all three —Demings, Rubio and Scott — and was up against hundreds of other candidates for each of the academy nominations.
“It’s definitely very hard to get a nomination,” Kelly said. “I was very fortunate with my nomination experience.”
He had to answer questions pertaining to topics such as leadership and overcoming adversity.
“They only had 10 to 15 minutes, so they only asked five or six questions and you had to answer well,” Kelly said.
“I know for Marco Rubio we talked about my Eagle Scout project, being drum major in the marching band,” he said. “I think a really common theme was, ‘Why do you want to go and why do you want to serve and how do you fit into the ideals of each academy?’”
Kelly also has mastered the skill of performing under pressure. He passed his Boy Scout Eagle Board of Review interview process after building three hammock areas in Wekiva Springs State Park, and he was interviewed by multiple Ivy League schools, including Stanford and Yale.
In the spring, he heard first from West Point, receiving the official “you got in” letter, he said. This was followed by letters from the Air Force and Navy.
“I got a letter of assurance, which is pretty much, ‘You’re in if you meet the qualifications,’” Kelly said.
Narrowing it down to one academy was tough, he said, but he knew he would get an excellent education and steady career through any of the three.
“Basically, each academy is the best of the best, so you really can’t go wrong with any of the three,” he said.
His first choice was the Air Force Academy because he has a passion for aerospace and airplanes and wanted to become a pilot, but he learned an issue with his eyesight disqualified him.
Kelly said he was leaning toward the Naval Academy because the U.S. Navy has more options for him once he graduates, and he made his final decision after talking to several friends at the academy.
“I took all that in and reflected on it,” he said.
“I think first and foremost it’s kind of an experience to grow as a person, to grow in character and academics,” he said of attending the Naval Academy. “You surround yourself with people you want to be like. I think the caliber of people is next to nothing. I don’t think you can find a higher caliber of individuals.
“In terms of moral and character development, as well as academic development, I think the academy stands out,” Kelly said. “The rigor of their program really builds you up to be an outstanding individual, American and leader.”
After graduating with the Class of 2026, Kelly expects to go into the U.S. Navy and become a surface warfare officer. He can decide later if he wants to dedicate his entire career to the military or if he eventually will move to the private sector and open his own consulting firm, he said.
Kelly reports to Annapolis June 30. He is the son of Claudia Otto and Paul Kelly.
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