Class of 2011: Pavelko will join ranks of elite military institution
This is the third in a four-part series profiling graduating senior students at Worthington High School. The final installment will be published May 21.
WORTHINGTON -- Determined.
It's a word Stephanie Pavelko uses to describe herself and likely the trait that helped her gain entry into one of the nation's most prestigious institutions.
The United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
Pavelko, the daughter of Mike and Mary Pavelko and a soon-to-be-graduating senior at Worthington High School, set her sights on West Point long before her peers were even beginning to contemplate their futures.
"I knew from probably middle school," said Stephanie. "I'd thought about the military, knew it was something I wanted to pursue. I knew I had the ability to do it, so why not try it?"
But gaining admission to West Point is no easy task. The process includes "a lot of hoops, papers and forms," according to Stephanie, and a candidate must have the physical aptitude, stellar academic performance and demonstrate leadership potential.
"They want you to prepare all through high school," Stephanie said. "I really started my junior year. They have a summer leadership seminar, and I was trying to get into that program. You get to go out there for a couple weeks, see the campus. When you sign up for that, regardless of whether you get into it or not, they open a file for you. I didn't get in, but you get all their mailings."
Entry into all U.S. military academies requires a congressional appointment, and members of congress have different requirements for securing that appointment -- forms, essays, interviews. Without the appointment, there's no chance of getting in, no matter how impressive the candidate's qualifications.
"I was juggling both (the appointment process) and the other stuff West Point wants you to do -- essays, an interview with the (West Point) representative from your district," Stephanie explained. "They want to make sure you want to be there."
Throughout the lengthy entailed process, Stephanie barely waivered in her resolve to become a West Point cadet. The only time she had the least bit of doubt was when she had to retake both the medical and fitness tests -- which she eventually passed with flying colors.
"It didn't make me doubt I wanted to go there, but maybe if I was what they wanted," she reflected.
Stephanie didn't give much thought to applying to any other military academy, focusing on the Army school "because it seemed like the best fit." She was so set on West Point that her back-up plan -- attending a university with an ROTC program -- was just a fleeting thought.
That singular determination paid off. Stephanie received the endorsement of both Rep. Tim Walz and Sen. Amy Klobuchar and was notified Feb. 14 -- Valentine's Day -- that she had been accepted to the ranks of West Point.
"It was just like a big whoosh" of relief, Stephanie recalled.
But that doesn't mean life has calmed down for Stephanie. She has two weeks of classes left until graduation, and a schedule that includes honors chemistry, advanced placement psychology, student volunteer services and a slew of extracurricular activities.
"They recommend a strong background in math, sciences, writing composition," explained Stephanie. "They want you to take a challenging load to prepare you for how challenging it will be there."
Since eighth grade, Stephanie has been a fixture on the ice for the school's girls hockey program.
"My sister got me involved," she explained. "I had been manager the previous year, and I've pretty much loved it since I got on the ice. ... I love being on a team -- the camaraderie with my teammates, all working toward a certain purpose. It's also a chance to be aggressive and push yourself. And I love being on the ice. Everything goes so fast on the ice -- your head is going 100 mph."
Stephanie is particularly proud of how far the girls hockey program advanced during her tenure.
"We came a long way as a team," she said. "It was a very rewarding feeling to end on that season, to go from being the underdogs and to get to a competitive level. We just all seemed to click as a team this year."
From the hockey arena, Pavelko went to the softball diamond, playing catcher for the WHS team. And in addition to those athletic endeavors, she feels the need to workout and run daily to prepare herself for the rigors of West Point life. She will report for cadet basic training on June 27 and is feeling the pressure to be in tip-top physical shape.
"I'm actually looking forward to it," she said about the grueling physical conditioning she will endure. "I love the physical aspect of knowing you've worked as hard as you can to get to a certain point."
Stephanie has also been involved in WHS choral activities, singing alto in choir and the Bel Canto and Trojan Express groups. She's vice president of National Honor Society, treasurer for the yearbook staff and has volunteered for leadership roles in other school activities and functions. Somehow in her already busy schedule, she finds time to work at the local movie theater and spend time with her friends and family.
As graduation -- and then her impending departure for West Point -- nears, Stephanie is even more determined to accomplish the goals she's set for herself and have the military career she's envisioned for so long. West Point offers 45 majors, many in the engineering and science fields.
"I don't have to decide my major until halfway through my sophomore year," she explained. "I'm kind of interested in the computer science areas, possibly engineering, but that could change when I get there."
Except for deciding her major, the course of the next nine years is pretty much set for Stephanie -- four years at West Point, a commission as a second lieutenant in Army followed by a mandatory five years of service -- but she foresees a much longer stint in the Army.
"Ten years from now, I'll still be in the military. I want to be somewhere active, not just sitting at a desk, but working with soldiers, making sure they have all the skills, and I'm teaching them what they need to be successful in the Army," she predicted.
And with her drive and determination, Stephanie is confident she will live out that dream.
"When I set a goal, I want to get there, and I'm going to do my very best to get there," she said. "... I know what I want."