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Anne Arundel high school seniors look to service academies, leave behind a year marked by pandemic

Because of coronavirus precautions, Brennan Penafiel’s family won’t be there to watch him on the Naval Academy’s Induction Day, as he had done for his brother.

But he said he’s just grateful to be going to the academy.

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Having a father who emigrated from the Philippines and served in the military and an older brother who graduated from the Naval Academy, the 18-year-old from Chesapeake High was excited when he got in. He said his older brother was a role model for him.

“He was on track and got good grades and he pushed me to do the same,” Penafiel said.

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As graduating seniors finish out their final year in high school, students heading to military academies look to serve while undertaking the challenges of a semester disrupted by a pandemic.

Though Chinaeme Ozobu said she was lucky to play her final soccer season at Arundel High, she was upset she couldn’t try outdoor track because of the pandemic. So now, Ozobu said she’s learned to be in the moment.

“Things really do go by fast. I’ll cherish my time at the (Naval) Academy and cherish every moment, no matter the circumstance,” she said.

While Induction Day has been pushed back and Plebe Summer shortened, Ozobu said once she gets to campus and quarantines with her roommate, she hopes to learn everything she needs to as well as take the time to get to know the other person.

Ryan Mitchell of Arundel High said finishing up school at home taught him how education is a privilege.

“It made me realize you can’t take anything for granted. I value education more after going through this,” Mitchell said.

Naval Academy

Lauren Aguilar, Millersville

Lauren Aguilar, 17, said she’d walked on the Naval Academy campus with her family and heard stories from her uncle about his time there.

“I could see what it meant for him to attend,” Aguilar said. She returned to the campus to experience what it was like to be a midshipman as part of a summer seminar program.

She said she applied because she liked seeing the camaraderie, the strong moral culture and discipline.

“It is not like a normal college, I have to keep up these physical expectations as well as the academic ones,” she said.

During her time at Severna Park High, Aguilar was part of the field hockey team and won the state championship this past school year. She called it “the perfect way to end” her time at the school.

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Aguilar was also class treasurer, vice president of the SGA club, ambassador in Girl Scouts and part of the group, Women in Engineering.

Andrew Bailey, Annapolis

Andrew Bailey grew up around people in the military and knew it was something he wanted to do as well.

“I have never been one to want to work behind a desk,” Bailey said. “I thought the military would be perfect for me.”

In particular, Bailey said he hopes to improve his leadership skills while at the Naval Academy. He remarked that “everyone there is trying to achieve the same goal,” something he liked to see. Bailey will attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School before heading to the academy.

At Archbishop Spalding High School, Bailey was captain of his baseball team, part of the football team and played the saxophone. Before he heads to the preparatory school, Bailey was able to start his own business.

After watching videos on YouTube he decided to try out making furniture from wood. For the past month and a half, he and a friend were able to make nearly 100 benches and chairs.

Patrick Oliver, Cape St. Claire

Since he was 3, Patrick Oliver knew he wanted to attend a service academy. The 17-year-old said the Naval Academy experience was one close to home.

“Growing up in the naval environment and my family, it felt natural,” Oliver said.

Oliver has also lived in Japan and Germany and spent his junior year in Spain as part of an academic exchange. Living in other countries for him “reinforced my love for the country and my desire to give back to this country that has done so much for me and my family,” he said.

The Broadneck High senior said he hopes to develop as a person, give back to others and also be challenged academically while at the Naval Academy. During his time at Broadneck High, Oliver was captain of his cross-country team and an Eagle Scout.

When he graduates from the academy, he said he wants to become either a pilot or naval flight officer.

Jolees Torres, Calvert County

Watching her older sister go through I-Day at the Naval Academy, Jolees Torres saw her sister transform from a civilian to a plebe.

“It was very eye-opening and I was like, I want to do this... this is something I want to be a part of,” Torres said.

The 18-year-old from Calvert County, will now attend the academy with her sister and have the opportunity to play on the women’s lacrosse team.

Now, preparing for the physical strain both as a student and as an athlete, Torres spends her days working out.

A graduating senior from St. Mary’s, Torres has played soccer, volleyball and lacrosse.

At the Naval Academy, Torres said she hopes to become something bigger than herself and part of a team. Once she graduates the academy, she hopes to become either a helicopter pilot or jet pilot.

For now, she is excited to be at the academy with her older sister.

“She is always going to be there to guide me and give me advice to help me get through the hard times.”

Ian Dinmore, Odenton

When Ian Dinmore visited the Naval Academy, he was able to meet the gymnastics team, which he will join in the fall.

“They work together. They eat together. They spend all their time together — they all have nicknames,” Dinmore, 17, said.

Gymnastics began as something fun to do when he was younger but developed into a dedication of 20 hours a week practice before his club gym had to close due to the coronavirus.

Initially, Dinmore thought he would head to Ohio State but over the past couple months he came to realize he wanted to attend the academy, he said.

While at the academy, Dinmore said he hopes to learn good decision making skills, how to work under pressure and have confidence in choices he makes.

“After seeing all the things the midshipmen have to do and the higher expectations they are held to, it was what I wanted,” Dinmore said.

He is graduating from Arundel High School.

Abigail Ward, Pasadena

In her time at Northeast High, Abigail Ward threw herself into clubs, sports and other extracurricular activities, and she signed up for the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program in her sophomore year.

There she was able to do community service, gain survival skills and learned more about the military. She was also able to go to a leadership camp.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life, they really challenged us and pushed us. They gave us all the tools to succeed,” Ward said.

The 18-year-old will attend the Naval Academy in the fall and said she hopes to learn more about leadership. One of her teachers at Northeast had gone to the academy and she recalled hearing about how it “shaped him” on the first day of class.

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When Ward decided to go to the Naval Academy, she told her teacher over video chat and said he was not surprised. While at Northeast, Ward was able to participate in student government, cheerleading, lacrosse and Spanish Honor Society.

Reed Romo, Annapolis

Growing up in Annapolis, Reed Romo said he has always had a connection to the Naval Academy through his family sponsoring midshipmen and having an older brother that currently attends the school.

“It isn’t just a four year experience. You meet people from all 50 states and you have to bond with everyone,” the 18-year-old said.

Romo was recruited to play football and will spend a year at Salisbury School of Connecticut with a goal to enroll at the academy for the class of 2021.

During his time at St. Mary’s, Romo recalled memories with friends, championship games and the challenging academic courses.

Chinaeme Ozobu, Odenton

After spending five days on the Naval Academy campus, Chinaeme Ozobu realized that she liked the school a lot, she said. She saw camaraderie there and said the academy’s morals align with her own.

“I want to see myself grow and get stronger and be able to work through multiple things that come my way,” she said.

She is the first in her family to attend a service academy.

While at Arundel High, the 17-year-old played soccer, ran track and was part of the medical track at CAT-North.

“We went to hospitals and shadowed doctors and surgeons as well. I really enjoyed it,” Ozobu said.

Lindsay Beardmore, Annapolis

After getting the call about playing lacrosse at the Naval Academy, Lindsay Beardmore said she was at first shocked but realized it was not something she could shy away from.

“Knowing I will be able to be one of the people that the community looks so highly upon? It is such an incredible opportunity,” the 18-year-old said.

In particular, Beardmore said seeing flags put up around Annapolis in support of the midshipmen during the pandemic has shown her how much people care.

Growing up, Beardmore recalled how her grandparents would sponsor midshipmen and how her friends on the lacrosse team at Spalding High School have ended up at the school.

“I think it is the best way to work with such intelligent, and amazing and supportive people.”

Beardmore said being on the field, receiving support from her school and gathering after Mass services are some of the times she’ll remember from high school.

West Point

Chase Campbell, Severna Park

When Chase Campbell visited New York City with her family last winter, she saw the 9/11 Memorial and recalled standing shoulder-to-shoulder, staring up at a “huge twisted mangled piece of steel” and the quiet.

“That moment just really rocked me. When I got back to our cramped hotel room that night I fell in the bed and I thought to myself, ‘Man if there was anything I could do to prevent that from ever happening again, I would,’” the 18-year-old said.

Campbell decided she wanted to attend West Point, where both her parents went. Her dad has shared many stories about his time at the academy.

“He had so many cool stories and the opportunities that are there at the end of your four years is endless. I wanted to make my own stories...” she said.

Campbell is graduating from Severna Park High. Her favorite part of high school was when she became captain of her soccer team her senior year, she said. Now Campbell said she is spending her time working out.

In particular, she has spent more time with her dad.

“I make him get on the bike and follow me on my runs...it’s fun, it’s a nice little bonding experience” she said.

Patrick Dunleavy, Arnold

Patrick Dunleavy grew up idolizing his father who was in the Army and served in the Gulf War, Dunleavy said.

So after Dunleavy graduates from St. Mary’s High School, he will attend West Point and play lacrosse. While there, he hopes to learn how to work better with others, he said.

“I’ve always known how through a sports view and in a classroom. I want to do my part and be part of that family and be a good role model,” Dunleavy said.

When he visited the campus and met the lacrosse team, Dunleavy said it was an inviting environment and they seemed close.

Unfortunately, his senior lacrosse season was cut this year because of school shutdowns.

“I was a little disappointed that my lacrosse season was going to be canceled but I try to keep my faith in God,” he said.

Madeline Lenkart, Gambrills

In her freshman year at South River, Madeline Lenkart visited West Point as part of a lacrosse recruitment effort. But the school was not new to Lenkart, whose father graduated from the academy.

Even so, being on campus stuck with her.

“I was really motivated by the people there. They were all very focused on a common goal, with a commitment to the school and to each other,” the 18-year-old said.

At West Point, Lenkart said everyone has to go through the same thing and can struggle together, similar to sports.

While a team’s goal is like winning a championship, at West Point she said "it’s being the best soldier you can be and being the best version of yourself.”

Though she realizes Annapolis is a Navy town, she joked about the rivalry and being an Army family.

Along with lacrosse, Lenkart was in the student government, a class officer, ran track and was president of a club called Seeking Smiles, that works to bring awareness around mental health.

Coast Guard Academy

Ryan Mitchell, Odenton

With an interest in electrical engineering, Ryan Mitchell said visiting the campus at the Coast Guard Academy and seeing the engineering programs had impressed him.

“I got to talk to students and look at engineering equipment. I really liked that they had a routine, they are very structured,” the 18-year-old said.

Mitchell said he wants to serve his country, and was able to talk to his dad about service academies and the military since his father was in the Navy.

“He’s always been very proud of the service, he was a chief in the Navy and he talks about it a lot,” Mitchell explained.

Out of school, Mitchell said he hopes to start his own company. At Arundel High School, he talked about meeting new friends, being on the wrestling team and going to football games.

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