MARQUETTE - It has been a wild few weeks for two Marquette Senior High School seniors who recently joined an exclusive club.
Both Christian Ferrarini and Jeremy DeMitchell were informed in late March that they had been accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy as a part of the Class of 2015.
"It was a big honor to be accepted and just to be able to go there, among the elite," Ferrarini said.
Air Force Col. Ken McNeely reads prepared remarks during a ceremony Sunday recognizing Marquette Senior High School seniors Christian Ferrarini, center, and Jeremy DeMitchell. Both will be a part of the U.S Air Force Academy’s Class of 2015. (Photo courtesy of Michelle DeMitchell)
The road to the Academy is not a simple one, and prospective students must be nominated prior to applying. Nominations can come from national senators and congressional representatives, the governor of Puerto Rico, National Guard commanders and the president. Children of MIA/POWs and Medal of Honor recipients are also eligible to apply. Ferrarini received a nomination through Sen. Debbie Stabenow's office, while DeMitchell's came through former Rep. Bart Stupak.
"This was a very long process and I had days when I was completely confident I'd get in," DeMitchell said. "Other days, I thought there was no way."
The Air Force Academy received nearly 13,000 applications this year, yet just 1,120 Americans will be joining the Class of 2015 on June 23.
Though basic training starts that day, it is by no means the beginning of the journey and U.S. Air Force spokesman John Van WInkle said prospective students must be fully committed.
"Long before you put pen to ink and say, 'I want to go to the Academy,' you have to keep the grades up, stay out of trouble, be involved in the community and work toward your future," he said.
Basic training will wrap up July 30, and classes are set to begin less than one week later. After basic, the cadets will face constant academic challenges - the Academy has been deemed the top public university in the western United States by U.S. News and World Report.
DeMitchell said people are often unaware of that aspect of the institution.
"I know the Air Force Academy is an Ivy League-level education, but when I tell people I'm going there, they just think I'm enlisting," he said. "They don't even realize it's a college, let alone a great college."
Those currently enrolled in the Academy know better, though.
"Academically, this place is a grind," Van Winkle said. "You start at 15 credit hours, then go to 18 credit hours for the bulk of your time. Time management is going to be a survival skill, as are study skills.
"You don't get through here without them."
Academy graduates are commissioned as second lieutenants and a skilled few move on to an extra year of pilot training. Both DeMitchell and Ferrarini hope to become pilots.
MAPS interim Superintendent Deb Veiht recalls other military academy appointments from her district, but said it is amazing that two students from the same class were accepted.
"We're very proud that from a high school of 1,000 students, two had the characteristics and ability to be accepted," she said."They are attending a public school in the rural part of Michigan, yet they can go out and complete on a level playing field, in both the armed services and in education."
Tawni Ferrarini, Christian's mother, is thrilled the students will be heading to the Air Force Academy after graduation, but she has reservations, as well.
"These two men are giving up the typical college experience to serve their country," she said. "And we all know what it could mean."
But that drive to serve runs deep in both. Christian Ferrarini's father was an Air Force carrier pilot and his grandfather was a Navy fighter pilot. DeMitchell said nearly every member of his family has served in the armed forces.
"Being an officer in the Air Force is my ultimate goal," DeMitchell said. "I may or may not be a pilot, my career goals may change, but in the end, I will be an officer in our military."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.