When Brayden McCarley started high school, he knew he wanted a military career after he graduated.
“I always wanted to go into the Navy. My grandpa was Navy. My dad was Navy,” he said. “I just always wanted to be military, but I always wanted to go to college, so I found a school that valued education, athletics and leadership.”
But finding his dream school and getting into it were two different things. The U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland only accepts a handful of applicants each year — less than 9 percent of those who apply get to walk through the door.
While it was a long shot, when June 27 rolls around McCarley will start his first year as a midshipmen in Annapolis.
The path to the academy wasn’t easy, and if not for his parents’ support, he would have stumbled from the start. The academic standards require students to get a near-perfect grade-point average from college-level classes.
He saw that opportunity at Kennewick High School’s International Baccalaureate program, but his family lived in the small community of Burbank, north of Pasco. So they moved to help McCarley follow his dream.
Embrace hard times
Throughout his four years of high school, McCarley focused on his goals. Along with playing linebacker for the football team for three years and participating in track for the past two years, he maintained a 4.0 gpa.
During his high school years, most of his weekdays involved going to class, then sports practice and finally home for dinner and homework — except on Wednesday, when he went to church and then did his homework.
“The biggest thing is to not procrastinate,” he said. “That, and you have to accept that sometimes you’re not going to get a lot of sleep. ... You just realize that you’re going to go through tough times. Everybody goes through tough times, but when you really want something you deal with the hardship.”
That was just the beginning.
Even the process of applying to the academy required him to get a state senator or representative to support his application. Rep. Dan Newhouse provided him with the nomination, but first the Kennewick teen needed to provide his grades, finish an essay and finally interview with a board.
McCarley was one of four students of the 11 the representative nominated from the 4th District to reach a military academy this fall.
“I admire the dedication of these students who have been selected to serve at our nation’s fine military academies,” the representative said in a release about the four. “Their academic success, community involvement and commitment to our country proves they are excellent representatives from Central Washington.”
McCarley’s application process started his junior year, and he spent the past summer experiencing what it would be like to be a first-year student at the academy.
While he’s excited to attend the academy, he’s also nervous. For his first two months he will go through what the school calls Plebe Summer. The academy describes it as combination of physical and mental conditioning; McCarley describes it as a combination of getting yelled at and physical training.
“I’m terrified, but I’m also extremely excited,” he said. “I like seeing how well I can perform under pressure.”
On the way to his goal
Reaching Annapolis is only the first part of his plan. He hope to become a Navy SEAL.
The special forces branch starts looking at students when they reach their junior year. They’re even more selective, and only take about 30 people each year. Of those, only a handful make it through the two years of training.
“I know what I want to do, and I”m going to go for it,” he said. “The Naval Academy has a very low acceptance rate. It was a long shot, but I made it, so I say, ‘Why not go for another long shot?’”
While his parents are split about his choice, he said they’ve both been very supportive of his goals.
He hopes other students can find what they love and pursue it, whether it’s college, trade or a military career.
“It’s not about having the perfect grades or the best test scores,” he said. “It’s about knowing what you want and pursuing it.”