When parents pull out the cameras to take prom photos of their seniors, it’s usually to get a glimpse of the dress or to check out the tuxedo.
In this case, the prom attire was overshadowed by what the couple was holding — their academy acceptance letters.
Lakeview Prom Dates Nathan Pawlowicz and Ari Pontoni posed for the usual photos before the big ball. But the location was a little different as the two were on the steps of the Federal Center in downtown Battle Creek and each held a reward for years of hard work – folders containing respectively letters of acceptance to the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy.
“I wanted to go to prom, so I asked her to go,” Pontoni said. “And then I said, let’s remember to bring our date letters when we take prom pictures. I thought that would be a great way to celebrate our accomplishment.”
This feat is relatively rare, to have two students from the same high school accepted into military academies in the same year.
An appointment to the military academy requires a nomination from the head of local student government – either their U.S. House Representative or their U.S. Senator. This person usually only selects one student per year.
In that case, with Pawlowicz living in the Richland area and going to Lakeview as a student of choice, 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 nominated to go to the Air Force Academy by Senator Debbie Stabenow, along with Rep. Peter Meijer and Senator Gary Peters.
“Ari and I have been good friends for a long time and we’ve been talking about going to the academy for a while now,” Pawlowicz said. “We were able to kind of help each other towards that goal. We were able to work through the application process together, check in with each other how it was going. We were both driven by that goal to get to the academy.
“When we both walked in, we were thrilled. We had lunch and celebrated that we both walked in. Then we talked about how it would be pretty cool to take a picture for prom with our packages. That isn’t something you see every day – prom dates both going to the academy.”
Pontoni, who was initially not accepted but continued to pursue 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 great to have someone to talk to about the stages, talk about the important upcoming dates that we needed to meet,” Pontoni said. “It was also good that we weren’t necessarily competing for a 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 experience played a role in acceptance, according to Pontoni.
Pontoni raced in 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 in very good physical shape,” Pontoni said.
Pontoni said she had the option of attending small college if she wanted to pursue that, but would focus on her studies at the Air Force Academy instead.
Pawlowicz, who was recruited as a swimmer at the junior college level, is looking to become an extra for the Naval Academy team.
“I talked to the coach about how to proceed and it’s on my 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 dates. Pontoni, who attended St. Philip before going to Lakeview, said she had mentors early in high school who went to the academy and wanted to follow in their footsteps. Pawlowicz said he seeks to give back to the people around him all the support he received during his high school years.
“My decision to go to the academy came late in high school. But I just thought the community had 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.