When parents break out the cameras to take prom photos of their seniors, it is usually to get a glimpse of the dress or to check out the tux.
In this case, the prom attire was overshadowed by what the couple was holding — their acceptance letters to the academy.
Lakeview prom dates Nathan Pawlowicz and Ari Pontoni posed for the usual photos prior to the big dance. But the location was a bit different as the two were on the steps of the Federal Center in downtown Battle Creek and each were holding a reward for years of hard work — folders that held acceptance letters to the Naval Academy and Air Force Academy, respectively.
“I wanted to go to prom, so I asked him to go,” Pontoni said. “And then I said, let’s remember to bring our appointment letters when we take prom photos. I thought it would be a neat way to celebrate our accomplishment.”
That accomplishment is relatively rare, to have two students from the same high school accepted to military academies in the same year.
A military academy appointment needs a nomination from the students’ local government official — either from their U.S. House representative or their U.S. senator. That person generally only selects one student a year.
In this case, with Pawlowicz living in the Richland area and going to Lakeview as a school-of-choice student, and Pontoni living in Battle Creek, they could both be nominated.
Pawlowicz was nominated to go to the Naval Academy by Rep. Fred Upton, while Pontoni was tabbed to go to the Air Force Academy by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, as well as Rep. Peter Meijer and Sen. Gary Peters.
“Me and Ari have been good friends for a long time and we have talked about going to the academy for awhile now,” Pawlowicz said. “We were able to kind of help each other out toward that goal. We could work through the application process together, check with each other as to how it was going. We were both driven for that goal to reach the academy.
“When we both got in, we were ecstatic. We got lunch and celebrated that we both got in. Then we talked about that it would be pretty cool to take a photo for prom with our packets. That’s not something you see every day — prom dates who are both going to the academy.”
Pontoni, who wasn’t initially accepted, but continued to chase her dream, said it was helpful to go through the process with a friend.
“We both knew we wanted to do this, so it was awesome to have someone to talk to about the steps, talk about important dates coming up that we had to meet,” Pontoni said. “It was also good that we weren’t necessarily competing against each other for one spot. It was just great to have my best friend there to help me pursue something like this.”
As both were standout high school athletes, that background played a role in getting accepted, according to Pontoni.
Pontoni ran on the cross country and track teams for Lakeview. Pawlowicz was a standout swimmer for the Spartans.
“You have to be very academic, be active in the community and be very physically fit,” Pontoni said.
Pontoni said she had opportunities to run at the small college level if she wanted to pursue that, but instead will focus on her studies at the Air Force Academy.
Pawlowicz, who was recruited as a swimmer at the small-college level, is looking to be a walk-on for the Naval Academy team.
“I spoked to the coach about walking on and that is in the back of mind, hoping to make my dream of swimming in college a reality,” Pawlowicz said.
Both students said they were inspired by those around them to go after their appointments. Pontoni, who attended St. Philip before going to Lakeview, said she had mentors early in high school that went to the academy and wanted to follow in their footsteps. Pawlowicz said he was looking to give back to the people around him for all the support he has received in his high school years.
“My decision to go to the academy came late in high school. But I just thought that the community has done so much for me, that I had an obligation to give back,” Pawlowicz said.
Contact Bill Broderick at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick.