East Windsor salutatorian will miss graduation to head to Air Force Academy

By Jennifer Holloway - Staff Writer
East Windsor - posted Wed., Jun. 22, 2011
Nick Parker was accepted into the United States Air Force Academy. He will miss his graduation from East Windsor High School to start basic training. Photo by Jennifer Holloway.
Nick Parker was accepted into the United States Air Force Academy. He will miss his graduation from East Windsor High School to start basic training. Photo by Jennifer Holloway.

In late March, East Windsor High School senior Nick Parker pulled two very important envelopes from his mailbox. The first notified him he was accepted to the University of Connecticut’s ROTC program. As impressive as that is, it was not the letter he was looking for. Then he saw the second envelope - the one he had been waiting for - with the words “Offer of Appointment Enclosed” stamped on the outside. He started to cry.

Parker’s envelope was from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Between 10,000 and 15,000 applicants try for fewer than 1,500 spots each year at an institution where the education is valued at more than $415,000. According to his liaison officer, Parker was one of the first 500 students to be accepted for the Class of 2015. All cadets attend cost-free.

As a fifth-grader, Parker knew he wanted to fly when he grew up. In junior high, he began exploring his options and ended up researching the Air Force Academy.

“It had everything I wanted,” said Parker. “I could fly, and as I learned more about it, it was just a rigid, structured environment, where I wanted to be.”

He began his application process as a junior in December 2009 with an application for the Academy’s Summer Seminar, which he attended in June 2010. This gave him pre-candidate status and almost a year’s head start. The application process for the Academy is, to say the very least, involved. Parker had to go through a health screening, a fitness test, an interview with a liaison officer, obtain a nomination from a state congressional representative and submit three essays. He also had to write several essays to receive the congressional nomination.

Academy applicants do not just go through these steps, they must excel in each of them. As an example, Parker said the Academy looks for perfect health, and certain allergies can disqualify a candidate. Earlier in his life, Parker was allergic to bees, but he was retested last year and learned the allergy had disappeared.

“That would have disqualified me from getting in,” he said. “The list of disqualifications is almost longer than the list of people who are qualified.”

Parker persevered and completed the process. Then he waited. By March, most candidates have learned of their acceptance from their nominating government officials. Because Parker’s official, former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D), had already left office, he never got a phone call. Parker had already accepted a job to pay his way through UConn the day before receiving the Academy’s envelope.

In addition to being accepted to one of the nation’s most prominent schools, Parker is also the salutatorian for East Windsor High School. He will not be attending the June 24 graduation, however, because he is to report for in-processing at the Academy on June 22. Parker will spend the summer in basic training, then start school on Aug. 4.

“I’m pretty much ready for basic, but it just hit me that I’m starting college,” Parker said.

Back in March, he was so overwhelmed with his mailbox discovery that he just stood in the middle of the road, taking it all in. Three months later, the reality of his prestigious appointment is still sinking in for the East Windsor graduate.

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