The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, isn’t for everyone. Its rigorous academic and military program is reserved for individuals with exceptional leadership.
Some of the academy’s notable alumni include United States President Jimmy Carter, 19 ambassadors, two Nobel laureates, 49 Rhodes Scholars and 54 astronauts — a distinction that retired Commander of the U.S. Navy Bill Rivera says belongs solely to the naval academy.
“We’ve had more astronauts than MIT or any other university in the U.S.,” he said referring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other post-secondary institutions around the country.
Despite the elite group of naval academy alumni, Rivera, who serves as the academy’s spokesperson for the West Texas region, said there’s a great deal of interest in getting more El Pasoans excited about the academy.
In fact, Rivera says, there’s a history and connection between the prestigious school and the El Paso region. The academy has produced four admirals and is also responsible for training Rear Adm. Samuel Perez who helped carry out Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea following his capture in 2011.
Perez, 59, attended Cathedral High School in El Paso. He said his command and flagship, the CVN 70 Carl Vinson, was tasked with conducting the burial of the al-Qaeda leader in the Arabian Sea.
“We were in charge strictly of supporting the team that brought the body on board the Carl Vinson and the subsequent burial,” Perez said.
This historic footnote is something that Rivera wants to build on to increase the number of El Pasoans interested in attending the academy.
“What we are looking for is leadership because we are going to put young men and women in positions of leadership,” Rivera said. “Not just leadership in the military, but in the areas of science, space and government.”
Rivera, 87, coordinates a group of volunteers to promote the academy. He oversees everything west of the Texas panhandle. It’s a sizeable region and it’s hard to get the word out to potential high school candidates.
“We want all the kids to know that the opportunity is there and they should apply. We have a lot better kids here in El Paso than people give us credit for,” Rivera added.
Some of the programs that the U.S. Naval Academy offers include naval science, engineering, navigation and weapons systems. Students who are accepted to the academy must complete four years of school and commit to five years of military service. Students who want to apply to the naval academy must have the endorsement of their U.S. representative or U.S. senator and the Vice President of the United States.
Siblings Viviana and Francisco “Frankie” Perry said joining the academy was the right choice. Both Chapin High School graduates said their parents instilled a sense of patriotism and service at a very early age.
“Growing up, our house was always extremely patriotic,” said Viviana. She is 18, graduated from Chapin last year and is completing her first year at the academy.
“Our parents were born in Juárez, and they instilled in us a sense of duty,” she said.
Viviana said she made up her mind about the academy after attending its summer seminar. The sessions are an introduction of sorts for students who are serious about attending the naval academy.
“The entire experience was the reason why I came here,” Viviana said in a phone interview from Annapolis.
“The feeling and the sense of accomplishment that you get from the small things that you did here, it was a lot of fun,” Viviana said about the summer academy.
For Frankie, the academy has given him a clear path to the Marine Corps.
The 23-year-old senior said he wants to join the Marines after he graduates from the academy. He applauds the effort to get the word out about the academy to El Paso students. The summer options include a STEM program aimed at piquing the interest of students interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
“I intend to return to El Paso to inform, educate and inspire the youth of my community about the Naval Academy and the amazing opportunities for development in leadership and character that I’ve been presented with,” he said.