As his high school career wound down, Charles Apt had a big decision to make — a real doozy.
In one hand, Apt held an acceptance letter to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
In the other, a similar letter accepting him to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Two of the country’s elite military and academic institutions had opened their gates and rolled out the red carpet for the smart and talented son of Iolans Chuck and Mary Apt — offering him the opportunity of two lifetimes.
“There was a little bit of pressure,” he said. “I had to choose.”
Apt, who will earn his diploma Sunday with 81 other members of Iola High School’s Class of 2011, decided to follow his older sister Tyner to the Air Force Academy. He reports there in June for basic training before classes begin in August.
“[The Air Force] has the three things I wanted,” Apt explained. “One, I will be getting a great education from one of the elite learning institutions in the country. Two, I get to serve my country. And three, I will get to see the world.”
Having Tyner, a 2010 Air Force Academy graduate, bend his ear about the exciting opportunities she was afforded didn’t hurt. Apt attended his sister’s graduation ceremony a year ago, and watched in awe as graduates tossed their caps into the mountain air.
“And then the Thunderbirds flew over,” he said. “It was amazing.”
So, “Off he goes, into the wild blue yonder….”
APT’S FLIGHT to the Air Force Academy almost didn’t get off the ground, due to a knee injury he suffered while playing sports following his freshman year. Academy officials listed Apt as ineligible, grounding him due to “chronic knee pain.”
But rather than give up the dream, Apt underwent a second knee surgery and, fully recovered, his request for a medical waiver was approved in January.
Earning an appointment in any of the U.S. military academies requires more than just a solid education. Cadets must also meet rigorous physical standards to gain entry; exhibit leadership in and out of the classroom; and perhaps most importantly, be nominated by a member of Congress.
Typically, only two candidates are nominated from each state. Apt was interviewed by senators Pat Roberts and (now governor) Sam Brownback and Rep. Lynn Jenkins. Roberts nominated Apt for admission to West Point; Jenkins to the Air Force Academy.
Trips to both academies within a few weeks helped clinch the decision, Apt said.
A formative point along the way came during Apt’s sophomore year, when he was assigned to interview his maternal grandfather, Bill Williamson of Atlanta, for a history class project. Williamson served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the Air Force.
The discussion helped convince Apt to pursue the military.
His commitment to the Air Force includes four years of schooling — he plans to major in biology, as a possible precursor to medical school — followed by five years of active duty and two years in the Air Force Reserves. Apt will be commissioned as a second lieutenant upon completion of his bachelor’s degree.
“Growing up, a lot of people told me they figured I’d go to law school,” he said, noting his family’s legacy in the Iola community. An Apt has practiced law in Iola for more than a century.
“Who knows,” Apt said. “Maybe I will pursue law someday,” but said he looks forward to studying science at the academy because of the cutting-edge research going on there.
“Some of the stuff we’ll get to do are things that some schools won’t even offer with their masters programs,” he said.
AT SUNDAY’S high school graduation, Apt will be honored for his academic achievements. The ceremony will give him a chance to reflect on his spotless academic record. He said he will feel grateful for the influence of his parents, especially when it came to decisions to put work before play.
Such sacrifice often meant staying home on Sunday afternoons to study instead of going on fishing trips with his friends. Despite maintaining all As, Apt also attended Saturday School at IHS.
“That really helped me with chemistry,” he said.
Apt approaches graduation day with some mixed emotions.
He sees commencement simply as the next step in his life’s journey, not a destination.
“But I’m going to miss my friends,” he said. “I’m going to miss the football games and the basketball games.
“Growing up in Iola means you know everybody here,” he continued. “There are no strangers. Iola is a great little town. But I’m excited at the chance to go see the world.”