By Zack Peterson
Engstrom constructs future as military officer
Ever since he was a young boy, Daniel Engstrom has loved taking things apart and building them back up.
“Engineering’s always been a hobby of mine,” he said.
Now, as a recently graduated senior from Land O’ Lakes Christian, he plans to build a powerful future at West Point, the prestigious military development institution where great leaders have all studied in the past and gone on to become critical figures in our nation’s armed forces.
“It means a lot and it’s all a very big honor,” Engstrom said. “About only 1,215 kids are getting in and it’s a big honor to serve my country in this way.”
For Engstrom, it all started last year when a close friend recommended the programs West Point had to offer.
“I went to a Summer Leaders Seminar program this past summer and when I was there – being at the campus and seeing all its history – it all hit me square in the head,” Engstrom said.
What came next was the long, rigorous process designed to find the best of the best. First, Engstrom had to initially be accepted to the school.
“It’s really similar to any other college application process,” he explained. “You make a profile and so on. Where it differs is the nominations.”
Candidates to U.S. military academies must gain nominations from senators and members of Congress from their particular area or state. After applying for these nominations, candidates are then judged by three areas of criteria: scholarship, athletics and leadership.
For a candidate to gain acceptance from a lawmaker, they must be well rounded and stand out to the reviewer’s scrutinizing eye.
After applying, “you pray they like you and hope you get a nomination to the academy,” Engstrom said.
To prep himself to shine before leadership, Engstrom involved himself in a myriad of activities over the years. As an active member in his school’s student government, Engstrom served as secretary, treasurer, vice president and president throughout his four years of high school. As an active captain of the soccer team, Engstrom collected the athletics requirement. And as a hard-working student, Engstrom landed himself in the top of his class.
However, Engstrom also displayed interest in the Air Force. He also pursued the rigorous requirements they held and even had two nominations to the Air Force Academy. Not hearing any additional word from West Point, he left it alone, mentally accepting the fact that he would have to move on.
Then, West Point made an exception, offering Engstrom an appointment even though he had no nominations to the Academy.
“It seemed totally out of the blue,” Engstrom recalled. “To me it was a sign from God.”
“As a Christian, I believe that God orchestrated the entire thing; I hadn’t talked to anyone from West Point in four to five months; I hadn’t done anything with my profile. In my eyes, he [God] opened the door to West Point and closed the one to Air Force. The whole time I would pray to him, asking for guidance with my decision. With this sign, I know he cares and listens.”
Set to report to West Point for basic training on June 27, Engstrom admits that he is “a little nervous, but overall, mostly excited.”
“I’m the first person from my school to ever go to an academy like this,” Engstrom said. “I think it’s encouraging to others to see how far a classmate can go and for them to try and do the same. It’s been a real thrill.”
Steinbrenner graduate Keith prepares to lead
Also attending West Point from the local area is Ryon Keith, a recently graduated senior from Steinbrenner High.
Keith was inspired to pursue West Point after sitting down and questioning his future career during his junior year.
“I sat down and looked at what I wanted to do with my life,” Keith said. “I wanted something that would push me physically and mentally.”
Originally, Keith looked at participating in ROTC programs at a college, but after extensive research, he decided otherwise.
“I realized I wanted to be more prepared to lead,” Keith recalled, figuring an Academy appointment would give him further credentials with the Army.
Like Engstrom, Keith first searched for nominations to the academy. He found success with U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who had Keith interviewed by a panel of specific people he chose.
According to Keith, each congressman can only have five nominees in the academy at one time period. Keith attributes his success as a nominee to his “well-roundedness.”
Judged by the same three characteristics as Engstrom – scholarship, athletics and leadership – Keith said his stand-out attributes were the various positions and school-related activities that dotted his resume. Not only did he serve as the swim team’s captain, he also played varsity football and served as the captain of the wrestling team.
Furthermore, Keith held memberships in the National Honor Society, Science National Honors Society and the Beta Club.
Lastly, Keith said his “high test scores” helped catch the eye of Bilirakis and his panel of hand-picked judges.
Although Keith hasn’t always attended Steinbrenner — he was once a Sickles student until Steinbrenner was opened in 2009 — he found the transition there to be filled with supportive figures everywhere.
“The administration and everyone at Steinbrenner were extremely helpful,” Keith said. “Everyone was really interested and eager to provide assistance.”
Though he’s slated to leave June 24 for basic training, Keith admits that the new lifestyle was definitely going to be “a big change.”
“I’m definitely nervous,” Keith admitted. “But overall I’m really looking forward to the entire experience.”
Had he not decided on West Point, Keith planned to study at either Auburn or Embry-Riddle and participate in ROTC. Now, everything’s about to change.
“My goal is to do well at West Point and do the best with whatever the future has in store,” Keith said. “I felt I’ve had a calling to serve. My vision of what’s to come will be clear with my time at West Point.”