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Incoming military cadets receive advice, thanks

Recent U.S. Naval Academy graduates Nicholas Dominguez, left, of Lockport, and Matt Koltis of Clarendon Hills, give advice to incoming cadets during a reception Tuesday night at the Hinsdale home of U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

Recent U.S. Naval Academy graduates Nicholas Dominguez, left, of Lockport, and Matt Koltis of Clarendon Hills, give advice to incoming cadets during a reception Tuesday night at the Hinsdale home of U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

When Charles Ren heads to the U.S. Naval Academy later this month, he’ll begin to fulfill a dream he’s had since the age of 11.

“I wanted to be able to make a difference, I wanted to be different,” he said. “A lot of Asian kids want to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, that kind of stuff. I wasn’t drawn to that whole business.”

Ren, who graduated from Naperville Central High School last month, was among the young men and women gathered at the Hinsdale home of U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert Tuesday night for a reception as they prepare to enter military academies this summer. Biggert nominated many of them for entrance into the schools.

The congresswoman hosts the event annually as a way for cadets and their families to get to know each other and seek advice from some of their peers who are currently enrolled in military academies.

“All the work all you students have done and what you’re going into is service for our country and let me say how much we really appreciate (that),” Biggert told the group. “… We really really admire you, respect you and really think that you’re going to do a great job.”

U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert poses for pictures with current and former military academy cadets from the 13th District during a reception Tuesday night at her Hinsdale home.. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

Ariana Mankus of Lisle, a current student at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, told the newcomers to keep a good attitude.

“As long as you keep with that mindset that I want to challenge myself, I want to better myself every day you’ll be fine,” she said. “It gets easier day by day.”

Matt Koltis of Clarendon Hills, who recently graduated with an aerospace engineering degree from the U.S. Naval Academy, advised the incoming students to join groups at the school and show interest in specialties they enjoy.

“When you pick your major … pick what you think you’re going to love or what you’re going to like to do,” he said. “Don’t pick something just because you think it will make you look better but you’re not that into it because you’ll hate it and you won’t do well.”

Other current and former students advised the group to remember their goals and support their classmates. One also told parents in the room just how meaningful it can be to receive letters from home even just with a simple joke or bit of news.

“It gives you something to look forward to every day,” he said.

The mother of a West Point student said she carries envelopes addressed to her son so when people ask about him she can hand them out and suggest they write to him. She also recommended family and friends include a self-addressed envelope so the cadet can easily write back.

Mary Ellen Adamski of Naperville said she is glad her son Conner had a chance to thank Biggert Tuesday night for the nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy and that he had the opportunity to meet other incoming students. Conner’s grandfather was an officer in the Navy in World War II.

“It’s a nice legacy for (Conner) and I know it will be a great experience for him and he’ll do great things,” she said.

Carolyn Smith, 18, of Downers Grove said she was drawn to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy by its mission and the chance to major in marine and environmental science. She has been running and doing sit-ups and crunches to prepare for basic training that begins at the end of the month.

“(I’m) very nervous because the whole basic training thing, but I’ve heard as long as you keep your head down and get through it that it’s all OK, and I think I’ll be OK,” she said. “I’m excited as well.”

The physical demands of the program are weighing on Ren too, but he said he, too, is excited, especially after meeting recent graduates Tuesday night.

“The graduates here look mighty squared away,” he said. “Hopefully I can represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me well.”

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