A Freedom High student recently received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.
Dean LaGattuta received word that he’d been accepted into the prestigious service academy on Jan. 20. He accepted the appointment on Jan. 31.
Ironically, LaGattuta, 18, was visiting the West Point, New York campus when he received the good news.
“It was just complete disbelief. I really couldn’t believe that I found out while at West Point,” the high school senior said. “It was just a dream come true that I was appointed.”
LaGattuta will report to West Point on June 27, shortly before his birthday.
“I’ll be spending my nineteenth birthday getting my head shaved,” he said, with a chuckle.
LaGattuta also applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, but has yet to hear back about his appointment status.
However, he has always viewed the U.S. Military Academy as his top choice for post-secondary education.
“Just hearing from West Point so early, and then speaking with my admissions major, he’s the one that really sold me on West Point—that they really wanted me—and that’s what really encouraged me to go there,” LaGattuta explained.
The ambience of the campus and its rich history were two aspects that stood out to LaGattuta, as he was weighing his college options, which also included the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, George Washington University and Georgetown University.
“I love the seclusion of the area. I love being by the Hudson River. It’s just an incredibly beautiful campus, surrounded by rolling hills—something we don’t have here (in Tampa),” he said.
“I was always a history buff, and it’s all the same architecture as it was 200 years ago. Even the new buildings they’re constructing—they’re matching the architecture to the previous buildings. I just love that feel that you’re not just in history, but you’re also becoming part of history,” he said.
To be considered for the service academy, LaGattuta underwent an application process that seeks to identify candidates who demonstrate leadership skills, have strong moral character, excel in academics and can surpass the required physical fitness standards.
In December, he was one of 14 students nominated for appointment to a United States service academy from the 15th Congressional District by U.S. Rep. Dennis A. Ross.
Eight Tampa area students were nominated, along with four from Valrico and two from Lakeland.
Appointments by service academies are usually made between January and April, and sometimes as late as May, according to Gary Clark, chairman of the District 15 Nomination Board.
Clark said a U.S. service academy (Military, Naval, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and Air Force) typically accepts only between 1,000 to 1,200 applicants out of the 17,000-plus that are sent in from across the country.
Last year, the District 15 Nomination Board nominated 12 students. Seven received appointments.
A 2014 study by the U.S. News and World Report found the U.S. Military Academy to have a 9.5 percent acceptance rate — the fifteenth most selective among all colleges and universities in the United States.
Knowing that his college years will be spent at the U.S. Military Academy is a weight off of LaGattuta’s shoulders.
“I still have to focus on my (high school) grades, but having that uncertainty of where I’m going to be in the coming months gone, I’m so relieved. It’s just really a blessing,” he said.
The appointment means LaGattuta is obligated to spend at least 10 years in the military, including four years at the Academy and six years on active duty.
“This is really going to be the start of a long journey, and I hope for a long career,” he said. “I definitely see myself surpassing the required amount of years of service, and I’m really looking forward to the years ahead.”
While keeping his career options open, LaGattuta is intrigued by some professions within the military.
“Right now, I’m interested in doing…Army Intelligence or something with cybersecurity, because it’s such a growing necessity, especially in an increasingly technological world in warfare,” the high school senior said.
For now, LaGattuta will be busy for the rest of the school year and over the summer.
He’s currently on the Freedom High varsity tennis team, and is serving as chairman of Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn’s Youth Leadership Council.
Over the summer, he’ll teach leadership classes at the council, serve meals to the homeless at the Trinity Café and work with underprivileged children at A Brighter Community, the oldest nonprofit preschool in Hillsborough County,
He’s also aware that he needs to take advantage of the time he can now spend with family and friends.
“For the next four years, there’s going to be a limited amount of time that I can see my family and friends once I go up (to West Point),” he said.
Published March 9, 2016