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My Dream on the Banks of the Hudson This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

We have all had dreams. That goal we aspire to, and work so hard for. The dream we say we will never give up on. The dream that lasts for years and years and, even if only in small ways, begins to define us.

My dream was a college, located on the banks of the Hudson River. Driving through the back roads of New York you see soldiers marching along the roads. Humvee’s winding their way around the curves, and when you finally arrive, and get out of the car, you are greeted by the far off sound of gunfire. This the United States Military Academy, located in West Point New York. This place was my dream.

This was the institution that produced Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley, Lee, Grant, MacArthur, Petreus, Westmoreland and so many others. It is place that has produced presidents, astronauts, but moreover, it has produced the finest Army Officers who have ever lived. They call the corps of cadets “The Long Grey Line.” Grey, because of the color of their uniforms, long because it stretches back to more than sixty years before the civil war, and it continues to this day. Every June, 1,000 more join the line. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the men and woman who came before them. My goal was to join them.

I first visited the academy when I was in the seventh grade. I remember drinking in every aspect of the place. The tradition, the values, the goals and the precision of the place. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.

The campus was gorgeous. Overlooking the Hudson River, the grey stone of the academy rises up from the landscape like a fortress. The green of the vast central parade field, known as “the Plain” was perfectly kept. I had never seen something so impressive. This was where some of the men I had always admired had started their careers. Everyone from “Blackjack” Pershing to David Patreus, had started here.

At this point in my life, I was an un-athletic kid with decent grades. I knew I wanted to come here, but I never thought I could do it. Fifty pushups in two minutes, there was no way. Despite this I never forgot about West Point.

My freshman year of High School found me swimming for the varsity swim team, and qualifying for the Sectional Championships. Fifty pushups in two minutes, was not as hard as I had first thought it to be. My grades were better too. I was an A’s and B’s students, but more importantly I was showing leadership. I was selected to attend a leadership seminar, I was on a board of directors of a local non-profit. I was thinking I might, just might, have a chance.

Toward the end of freshman year I went to a military academy forum. A representative from West Point was there. Just seeing the pictures made me sit up and take notice. I had forgotten how beautiful it was. I listened to the cadet who had been sent to represent the academy. I listened and I listened and I listened. There were five or six people asking questions. When he asked if I had a question, I said I had only one. “How do I apply?”

I left with an envelope full of information. When I got home I went into my room and sat and read. I would need either a nomination from my congressman, or from one of my U.S. Senators. I needed great grades, and I would need to show I was a leader.

The next three years were a blur. I was obsessed. In my room, on my closet door I hung three things. The timeline for admissions and nominations, and two posters of West Point. Every morning when I woke up, if I was tired, or just not motivated, I looked at the posters and I thought to myself “that is my goal. Today will bring me a day closer to it.”

When I had a hard swim practice and I just wanted to give up and skip the lap, I recited the cadet honor code in my head, “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.” When a test was coming and I didn’t feel like studying, it was the thought that every grade was needed to get me to West Point that brought me to pull out the books and begin.

I worked my body harder than ever before. When not swimming, I lifted and practiced the army physical fitness test (APFT) in my basement. In the spring of junior year I started doing track. I learned that I could run miles without stopping. I took on more leadership. I became a manger of the girls swim team, I went to Boy’s State, and took on more responsibility on the board of directors and at work.

When the day came to open my file I raced home to log into the computer and start the file. I started wading through the sea of paper work that was separating me and the class of 2018. I called my congressman and my senators, sent letters, talked to current and former cadets, and checked my file for updates every day.

I suffered my first set back a few months after I had opened my file. I was not accepted to the “summer leadership experience” at West Point. This was not a huge deal, most accepted cadets did not attend the event, but it made me uneasy.

I looked at my application and decided my SAT scores were just not high enough. I began taking SAT prep courses, and my scores began to improve. I felt I was back in it, but the process was a difficult one. It’s supposed to be. If you give up because you can’t figure out the paper work, how do you expect to persevere when you are cold, wet, hungry, tired and carrying a hundred pound pack up a hill. With that in mind I kept pushing forward.

When I returned from Boy’s State is when things began to change. Boy’s State is a program through the American Legion. In New York State they send you to SUNNY Morrisville where you and 1,000 other representatives from all over the state set up a mock government in the span of a week. Here’s the curveball. Your counselors, well, they are United States Marines.

In a week you are given a small taste of military life. You learn to march, make your “rack” to regulation, and eat your dinner in under ten minutes. We were always moving. Five thirty in the morning you were up and making your bed, measuring the sheets with your pen, creasing the corners at forty-five degree angles. At five fifty-five we lined up in the hall. At six on the dot an explosion would come from the stairwell in the form of a United States Marine Corporal.

He never stopped moving. One morning he realized that we had been sleeping on top of our already made "racks" to save the trouble of remaking them from scratch every morning. That afternoon we returned to our rooms to find that our sheets and blankets had been torn off our carefully made “racks.” It was all doable, but it was hard at times. I was in better shape than most of the guys which made morning physical training easier, but even for me it was trying at times.

I returned from that week questioning whether I wanted more like it. I was starting to go in different directions. I was seeing civilian colleges that I really liked, and they offered things that I would be missing. I always remembered what that cadet at the forum told us though. He said that when he was sitting in the woods, in the rain, holding an M-16, he would often envy his friends who were home or at college, partying and enjoying the civilian world. But he also said that on such nights, he knew that if he was with them, he would always wonder what it was like to sit in the woods in the dark and the rain, holding an M-16.

I kept telling myself that story and my determination resurged. I began writing my essay for West Point, and the subsequent nominations. The process was getting harder and more confusing. My civilian college search was suffering. I was falling behind.

Finally the day came when I realized I had a choice. I could apply to the military academy or I could pursue a civilian college. I knew what my decision would be.

West Point has produced some of the finest military minds in our history. As a history geek, these men were my heroes. I was pursuing admission to a place that had produced my heroes. I had an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of those men.

I had an opportunity to be an officer in the United States Army, one of the finest army’s in the world. I wanted that. I wanted to be the one that when things got tough, and the world seemed to be crashing down, that men would turn to and say “what do we do now sir?”

For more than four years I had dreamed of West Point. I practiced reporting to the cadet in the red sash, a rite of passage for new cadets on their first day. I would stand at attention and recite, “Sir, new cadet Tingley reports to the cadet in the red sash for the first time as ordered.” I knew it would be hard. I knew that there was always a chance I could end up dead, long before my time. West Point’s Campus has a large cemetery right on campus. It is filled with West Point graduates. Too many of the graves are fresh. However, I had always seen this as a small price to pay.

When the day came, it was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. I walked into my room, and I removed the West Point posters from the closet door and put them in the trash. I had done nothing but dream of West Point for more than four years and right there, I gave up.

Why did I give up? I’m not sure I can answer that. I think part of me knew it was a losing battle. I just wasn’t the type of person they wanted academically. I’m a history and English type of person. I enjoy science, but I’m not great at it, and math has always been a weak point. I attain B’s in both, but West Point’s academics are extremely difficult. The other reason was I was not one hundred percent certain it was what I wanted anymore. I wasn’t going to risk taking away someone’s nomination who was one hundred percent committed if I wasn’t.

Two mottos of the U.S. Army that have always been my favorite are “Never falter never quit,” and “No retreat, no surrender. I retreated and I surrendered. I faltered and I quit. I failed. I had a mission and I didn’t see it through. I violated the ethics that guided the men I strove to join. In the end I feel I made the right choice, for me anyway, but part of me will always regret that I didn’t at least see if I could get accepted. I will forever regret it.

I had a dream. I fought, and worked for it. But the dream died. The long grey line will march on, as it always has, without me. I will never know what is like to sit in the rain with a rifle, and stand a watch. I wasn’t strong enough. I wish I had been. There are still things I want to accomplish, and they are my new mission. But whenever I pass that point on the Hudson, or ride the train into New York City and I see that mass of stone rise up from the surrounding landscape, I will smile sadly to myself, and quietly, I will recite the cadet honor code, and wonder what could have been.

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