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Branden Dumais, left, from Hudson, and Ryan D'Auteuil, from Amherst, who are both headed to the U.S. Air Force Academy, talk with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who announced the names of more than 40 outstanding New Hampshire students who are receiving nominations to attend one of the nation's military service academies, at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, in Concord on Thursday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

40 NH students revel in academy nominations

CONCORD - Forty high school seniors were honored Thursday night as nominees for appointment to the country's service academies.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., hosted a reception for 40 students she nominated, some jointly with other lawmakers, for the highly sought-after places in the Class of 2017.

"It is absolutely one of the best parts of the job," Ayotte said. "It's very inspiring to see young people who want to serve our country and to get a fantastic education at one of our service academies."

Passing up the typical college experience for the grueling mental and physical life of a cadet may seem unfathomable to many 17-year-olds. But for those nominated, it is an opportunity they have worked toward. Most mention service before talking about career opportunities that a service academy education provides.

"It really comes from a willingness or desire to serve my country," said Ethan Doherty of Londonderry, who has already been offered an appointment to the Naval Academy and will begin his military career while contemporaries are still whooping it up after high school graduation. "I will be reporting on June 27 to start plebe summer."

A son of Chinese immigrants, Hans Gui, also a Londonderry High student, has already been accepted to Annapolis and is also applying to West Point.

"I've always wanted to serve my country. I've wanted that since I was a child," said Hans Gui.

The service academies are among the most tradition-laden of American institutions. In many cases, the students who want to attend come from families with a tradition of military service.

George Nifakos of Plaistow, a Timberlane Regional student, would follow the path of his father, Dean, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1986 and served seven years on active duty.

His father's experience means first-hand advice about the rigors and rewards of service academy life.

"It's definitely a hard route, it's definitely not easy, and that's why I want to do it. I want to push myself to do better in all aspects of my life," Nifakos said. "When you go into a service academy, it's nothing like a normal college."

Nifakos' desire blossomed when he accompanied his father to his 25th reunion in Colorado Springs.

"I took him out to the academy and said this is where I went, this is what I did and he took to it," Dean Nifakos said. "As parents we're very proud of him."

Erika Donovan of Jaffrey, a student at Conant High School, would join a small cadre of woman at the Air Force Academy, but doesn't see it as a disadvantage.

"If you're strong enough and have enough passion about what you want to do, it's not that hard," Donovan said. "You can get over the fact that you might be one of the minorities - it'll be worth it."

The ultimate choice will be made by the service academies. The students are glad to have made it to the final decision.

"It's been a dream since eighth grade, it's just a huge honor to be nominated," said James Delahunty, a Bedford High School student nominated to West Point.