For most high school students, the prospect of wearing a uniform to classes all day is akin to running into both Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees in the same nightmare.
Jake Wright is not most high school students.
Anybody who’s ever watched him crush a baseball or nail a long field goal with his booming leg can attest to that. And taking a further glimpse into Wright’s hopeful future, it becomes more and more understandable why he not only doesn’t mind the prospect of wearing a uniform to school, but actually encourages it.
“When everyone is following the same dress code, I think brings everyone closer together,” Wright said by phone during a Sunday morning chat. “It sort of shifts you into a harder-working manner. When you put on a uniform, there aren’t as many problems. Nobody can get made fun of for what they are wearing, because everyone wears the same thing. When you all put on the same uniform, that provides a sense of unity.”
In the interest of context, Wright is by no means a dress code enforcer or authoritarian. After spending the last four years at George Washington High School as a star baseball player — and later, a standout football kicker — he had the comfort of wearing whatever he wanted every day he went to school.
Now, having graduated from Washington earlier this summer, Wright is ready to trade his T-shirt, jeans and sneakers for a blazer, slacks, dress shoes and a tie in hopes that it leads to him wearing an even more prestigious uniform in the fall of 2014.
Instead of finishing high school and moving on to a four-year college, as the majority of students tend to do, Wright opted to spend the next year of his life at The Hill School, an elite postgraduate, preparatory/boarding school for boys and girls, located in Pottstown, roughly 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
It is Wright’s hope that after a year at Hill, his application to the United States Military Academy, perhaps more commonly known as West Point, will be accepted. The son of an Army veteran, Wright’s path toward becoming a military officer began to develop back in January.
“Because of my dad, I was always kind of interested in it, but it wasn’t until January that I really started to seriously think about it,” said Wright, the third of four brothers in his family. “He enlisted in the Army, and he always told me that if I was going to follow suit, I should try to become an officer instead of just enlisting. It started out as a dream of mine, a dream that’s now become a goal.”
Wright settled on Hill for his year of postgraduate studies after checking out similar institutions like the Lawrenceville School and Valley Forge Military Academy. One thing that helped Hill win out was the fact that the school offered Wright an opportunity to continue playing football and baseball. Everything about the campus, he said, felt like home.
“It’s been around since the 1850s, so it’s a little older, which gives it that more gothic, Ivy League feel, which is similar to West Point,” he said. “The facilities are amazing, and both the baseball and football coaches seemed like really nice people.
“It also offers me a challenge, academically. I can take classes like calculus and physics, which I didn’t at Washington. This essentially serves as my senior year of high school all over again. It’s a tremendous opportunity for me.”
Wright also plans to apply to the other service academies (Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard) as well as to four-year institutions like Georgetown and Yale, but his hope is that all roads lead to West Point. He has already taken a West Point fitness candidate assessment, though he hopes to take it again, as well as re-taking the SAT and taking the ACT for the first time in the interest of giving himself plenty of options.
The extremely selective admissions process also includes a formal application to the academy, as well as a nomination from a United States representative or senator. Additionally, there are essays to be written, letters of recommendation to obtain and a formal interview to go on. It is one of the hardest schools in the country to get into, as West Point accepts roughly 12 percent to 13 percent of total applicants. Despite that, Wright believes he has what it takes.
“Over the last year or two, I’ve become much more patriotic,” he said. “I’ve always thought this country has given me so much, and because of that, it is my duty to serve.”
West Point mandates its cadets to study at the academy for four years, and then the school has a required five-year military service policy upon graduation. If he gets in, Wright is still unsure of his career path, though he said he has interest in remaining in the military as an officer, or perhaps getting into politics or joining a government agency such as the FBI or Department of Defense.
Most of the big decisions are still to come, as West Point’s admissions process for the next year begins in October and runs through January or February. Though he has some fallback options, Wright maintained that West Point is “the number one goal, no question.”
No matter where he ends up, Wright thinks his education at Washington has more than prepared him for a career in politics, the military or other government service. Most might shy away at the prospect of going from enormous public school to elite private school, but Wright doesn’t look at it that way.
“Going to Washington was an overall character-building experience I’ll never forget,” he said. “The biggest thing I’ll remember is being around so many diverse groups of people and learning about their ethnic backgrounds, beliefs and philosophies on life. It’s changed the way I think about things. The close group of friends I have now is a very diverse one, and I think going forward it will help me at the Hill School, and, hopefully, West Point.”
While many of his friends have already enrolled at their respective colleges, Wright has hung back, carefully calculating his next move, as any skilled military officer would do. While it has been stressful at times, it’s doubly more exhilarating knowing where this road may him.
“I’m feeling a lot of different things right now,” he admitted. “There was a time when I asked myself, ‘Will I wind up anywhere?’ Then I zeroed in on a goal, which removed a lot of that stress. I know it will be a real tough year, but the whole time I’ll be focused on the main goal of doing whatever it takes to get to West Point.
“In a way, that sort of eases the mindset a bit. I’ve always kind of seen myself as a leader, and I look forward to improving my study habits and work ethic, as well as developing lifelong friendships and bonds. It’s a goal I won’t ever give up on.” ••