By Gina Martinez
Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) hosted a reception for six Queens high school students she nominated to attend the United States Service Academies. The teens will depart for their institutions later this month after they graduate from their local high schools.
The academies include the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.; U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo.; U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y.; and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn..
The nominees were all part of a program where students who wish to attend the nation’s service academies are nominated by members of Congress. To qualify the students have to meet highly competitive educational, physical and extracurricular standards set by the individual institutions.
The students were joined by family and friends as Meng and Lt. Ben Clay of the U.S. Navy presented them with Certificates of Congressional Recognition.
“It is an honor to have nominated these exceptional young men and women to attend our nation’s elite service academies,” Meng said. “These outstanding students are among the best and brightest in our community and I’m confident they’ll make us proud. I congratulate each of them, and wish them the very best for success.”
This was the fourth round of students Meng has nominated to the academies. Since 2013 Meng has made 107 nominations with 29 students being accepted. These six students were selected from the 16 that Meng nominated this year.
The six students include Flushing resident Karim Ahmed, who is going to the Air Force Academy; Oakland Gardens resident Sung Ho Chong, who will attend West Point; Middle Village resident Ted Colter, who will attend the Naval Academy; Fresh Meadows resident Jacqueline Girardin, who will attend the Air Force Academy; Flushing resident Allison Lee, who will attend the Naval Academy; and Forest Hills resident Justin Sells, who will attend West Point.
Sells, 18, was joined by his younger brother and parents, Derek Sells and Mina Malik.
“It’s phenomenal,” Sells said. “It’s such a great honor to be appointed to the United States military. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and, coming from the Virginia Military Institute prior to accepting my appointment to West Point, just the characteristics of duty, honor, country, integrity really motivate me as a person to do the best that I can for our country. It’s just a great honor to accomplish this goal in my life and I plan to do the best that I can at West Point.”
Justin’s father Derek was all smiles and excited for the next step in his son’s life.
“I’m immensely proud,” he said. “We’ve seen him grow since he was a tiny baby to now being someone who is going to serve our country, protecting our way of life. So we’re very proud of him and we know he’s going to be great.”
Justin’s grandfather served in the Korean War, a major motivating factor for Justin.
“Definitely, my grandfather was 100 percent an inspiration to me,” he said. “He frequently spoke to me of the lessons he learned in the military and he was a person of wisdom and knowledge and that’s something I want to embody as well.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart