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ILLINOIS EXCHANGE: High school senior readies for West Point

Posted March 15

— Grace Zeller had never thought about joining the military, let alone attending a prestigious military academy. Now she can't imagine herself anywhere else.

"I wasn't at all considering West Point until the beginning of my junior year when I got a letter from West Point in my general college mail," said the 17-year-old. "It really caught my eye because it was something different and it wasn't like anything I had ever received."

After researching the academy, she found it fit her "pretty well."

"I was very excited to find something that stuck out to me," said Zeller. "To be able to have that assurance was good."

Zeller will report this summer to West Point in New York, where she will begin U.S. Army basic training, followed by classes in the fall.

A competitive horseback rider, Zeller had also considered equestrian programs at Texas A&M, University of South Carolina, University of Georgia and Auburn.

"So, it was quite the switch from equestrian to military," she said.

While West Point also has a riding team, Zeller's not sure if she will try out or not, as the riding styles are different.

The selection process took about a year that began mid-way through her junior year. She was required to write several essays for the West Point application, plus essays for the nominations by congressman and senators.

During the yearlong process, Zeller, now a senior, has tried to learn as much as possible about the academy.

"I've visited twice and one of those I stayed overnight with the cadets in the barracks," said Zeller. "That's what really hooked me. I was with the cadets for a full 24 hours. I was able to get their uncensored feel about West Point."

She noticed a common theme: No matter how tough it was, everyone agreed they made the right decision to attend West Point.

Zeller also noticed some parallels between the educational settings at St. Anthony and West Point.

"They both have smaller environments and because there are only about 4,400 cadets total, there are small class sizes. It offers lots of individualized teaching. There are about 20 students in each class."

Nominated by U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, it was up to the academy to select the appointees. The academy looks at academics, leadership and physical fitness in order to assure that a young person is well-rounded and able to cope with the unique challenges of attending a military school.

At St. Anthony, the near-perfect GPA student stays busy in various clubs, track and field and cross country. She also is the senior class president and student council representative.

"I cannot thank my teachers here (at St. Anthony High School) enough," said Zeller. "They have provided so much for me in my education and without them none of this would have been possible."

St. Anthony High School Principal Greg Fearday said Zeller will represent West Point and the USA very well.

"Grace is well respected by her classmates, faculty and all those affiliated with our school and community," said Fearday. "She possesses the drive, morals and humility to strive for great accomplishments at West Point and beyond."

Zeller said while she's not 100 percent sure, she is considering a career in aviation or military intelligence.

"I'm keeping an open mind as keeping the military as a career," said Zeller. "Throughout this process, I've talked to many, many current cadets, past cadets and future cadets who will be in my class."

Zeller said support in her decision has come not only from the cadets, but also her parents and the community and for that she's "extremely grateful."

"I'm very excited," said Zeller. "I can't see myself going anywhere else."

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Source: Effingham Daily News, http://bit.ly/2lGQHIt

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