By Carlotta Mohamed
Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) awarded Certificates of Congressional Recognition during a ceremony Monday to eight Queens students accepted to the U.S. service academies after nominating them to attend the distinguished institutions.
To congratulate the students, Meng hosted a reception for the students and their families at her northeast Queens office at 40-13 159th St. in Flushing.
Two officials — Capt. Devin Adams and Lt. Raphael Waruinge — from the West Point Academy were special guest speakers at the ceremony.
“Each year I have the honor of nominating local students for our nation’s prestigious service academies and I’m proud to congratulate this year’s group of young men and women,” Meng said. “All are extraordinary individuals who seek to become future military leaders of our nation. I know they’ll make our borough and nation proud, and I thank each of them for their selfless commitment to serve our country. I wish them the very best for success.”
Four students from Flushing to attend West Point Academy later on this month include: Acacia Chai, of Francis Lewis High School; Thomas Knight, of Xavier High School; Allard Peng, of Stuyvesant High School; and Evan Zhang, of Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania.
Queens students Crystal Zhang, of Francis Lewis High School, will be attending West Point; Kelly White, of Bayside High School, will attend the Naval Academy; Szymon Szabat of Aviation High School will attend the Airforce Preparatory Academy; and Charles Lo, of Aviation High School will attend the Air Force Academy.
The academies consist of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point: U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.; U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo.; U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY; and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn.
Students seeking to attend the nation’s service academies are nominated by their members of Congress. The institutions evaluate all the nominations from across the nation, and decide which nominees to accept.
This year, Meng submitted a total of 25 nominations. Students nominated compete against students from throughout the country and must meet the highly competitive educational, physical, and extracurricular standards set by the individual institutions, according to Meng.
Knight, 18, of Flushing, who will be attending West Point, realized he wanted to be become a part of the military during his sophomore year in high school.
“There was a teacher at my school who was a retired lieutenant colonel in the army…he was a role model to me,” said Knight. “Just the kind of character and leadership that he had, I just thought wow if I can get that from the Army and West Point. that’s where else would I want to go.”
Zhang, 18, of Fresh Meadows, looks forward to becoming a great leader at West Point.
“I think what I’m worried about the most is that I’ll be a small fish in a big pond there, but I think physically, mentally, and academically I am prepared,” said Zhang. “My four years of high school has prepared me for this, and everything else will be up to me..how well I can undergo the challenges and the part of me to survive this basic training.”
The elite service academies prepare college-aged Americans to be officers of the U.S. uniformed services. After four years of study, service academy graduates become commissioned as officers in the active or reserve components of the U.S. military or merchant marine for a minimum of five years, according to Meng.
Adams, the New York City engagement officer for the Admissions Department at West Point, said the academy seeks to develop its cadets through four pillars: academic, physical, military and character.
“What we’re trying to do is to get the cadets to understand that you need to be able to stretch yourself, your mind, and who you are, and try to find those weaknesses in yourself,” Adams said. “By identifying those weaknesses in yourself and trying to fill those holes, you start to learn that anything is possible.”
This fall Meng plans to once again sponsor “U.S. Service Academy Information Night” for Queens students who are interested in applying to the U.S. aervice academies. When asked why he decided to become a part of the military, Peng, 18, of Stuyvesant said, “I love my country and I want to serve my country.”
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha