Photo by Sharon L. Filkins
Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) honors Oak Lawn resident Patrick Fox on Saturday. Lipinski nominated the Richards High School senior to attend West Point Academy.
The atmosphere in the Johnson-Phelps VFW 5250 banquet room in Oak Lawn was filled with an air of excitement and anticipation on Saturday as 18 high school seniors and their families gathered for a U.S. military nomination ceremony hosted by Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd)
The nomination ceremony recognizes high school students who live in the 3rd District and have been selected by the congressman to receive his nomination to the military academy of their choice, including West Point, the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy.
Jerry Hurckes, Lipinski’s chief of staff, said that this year there were 100 applications received in the office.
“It is not just a simple application. It is a lot of work on the part of the students who have to present their transcripts, school records of their accomplishments and letters of recommendation from instructors and community and civic organizations,” Hurckes said.
He added that the congressman’s nomination is just the first hurdle. “The student still has to be accepted by the academy,” Hurckes said.
Among those nominated to attend West Point was Oak Lawn resident Patrick Fox, a senior at Richards High School and a member of the ROTC.
“Today is one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Fox after receiving his nomination to West Point from the congressman. “I have been working on my application since my sophomore year. It has been a lot of hard work with a lot of stressful moments. I want to thank my parents for their support and understanding through this process. I could not have gotten to this point without them.”
When asked how he chose West Point, he replied that he had begun searching colleges and in his research he determined that the values of West Point Academy, such as character and integrity would help him in his goals for what he hopes to do.
“My dream is to spend 20 years in the military and then hopefully work for the state department. I would hope for the opportunity to work my way up to become an ambassador.”
Fox pointed out that these plans are his dream for his future, but he realizes that life can change unexpectedly.
“But for the present, I have this wonderful opportunity and will do everything I can to make it a reality,” he said.
Four nominees to attend the Naval Academy also represent area schools. They are Brandon Fitzpatrick and Desiree Garcia, both students at Marist High School; Justin O’Connell, a student at St. Rita High School; and Joseph Sweeney, who attends Brother Rice High School.
St. Ignatius High School was represented by Jennifer Stelnick, a nominee for the Merchant Marine Academy.
Other nominees for West Point were James Beecher, Benet Academy; Denise Hernandez, Lindblom Math and Science; Steven Irace, Lemont High School; Drew Litynski, Lockport High School; and John Sims, Kennedy High School.
Additional Naval Academy nominees are Charles Chan, UIC College Prep; John Hirstein, St. John Northwestern; George Pina, NAPS/Chicago Military; Philip Smith and Ryan Hammond, Lyons Township High School; and Grace Rost, Providence Catholic High School.
Nominated to the Air Force Academy was Jordan Brown, Lemont High School.
In his remarks prior to presenting the nominees, Lipinski praised their families, parents and grandparents for being a part of the student’s lives and instilling a sense of commitment to serve.
“We see fewer people today who are willing to make a commitment. So many in today’s world seem to be self-centered. But this group here today have demonstrated they are willing to give of themselves, to give it all, to sacrifice for others,” he said.
Turning to the nominees, he said, “All I can do is nominate you. I can’t get you into the academy. But it is your hard work that got you to this point and I thank you for being willing to make this commitment. Thank you and God bless you.”
Also encouraging the students was Clifford DeTemple, a U.S. Coast Guard recruiter.
“This moment is a pinnacle of your life. It is no small endeavor to join the military. It will change the rest of your life, for the better. It is so different than going to a college. In the academy, you will be trained for leadership positions. Most grads of military academies become Commanders or Admirals,” DeTemple said.
He also cautioned them to be prepared for day one. “You will need to work hard so prepare yourselves. The first weeks can be difficult but once you get past that, it is better.”
Other guest speakers at the event included former Chicago Ald. Jim Balcer, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Bronze Star recipient and a Vietnam War veteran.
Joe Stachon, a former state commander and a former commander of the 3rd District, also spoke. Stachon is also a former commander of the Johnson-Phelps Post.