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Driven to serve: Hermantown graduate admitted to four military academies

Kevin Harris, who graduated from Hermantown High School this month, was accepted into four military academies — the Air Force Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) and the Naval Academy. He decided to attend the Naval Academy and proudly displays his acceptance certificate. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

Kevin Harris wanted to give himself the best shot at his dreams of attending a military service academy, so he applied to the four major schools. He wasn't expecting to receive admission to all of them.

The 2017 Hermantown High School graduate applied and got accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; the Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.; and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. It's an uncommon accomplishment, said Scott Dane, who was his Navy liaison during the admission process.

"I had five applicants assigned to me this year, and quite a few of them had numerous service academy offers," Dane said. "None of them had all of them."

Kevin grew up with strong family ties to the service. Both his father, Sixth Judicial District Judge Dale Harris, and his maternal grandfather served in the Navy. His paternal grandfather served in the Army. In middle school, Dale Harris said, Kevin already had set his mind on attending the Naval Academy like his grandfather, according to a career path he wrote in class.

Now Kevin — who graduates with the rest of the Hermantown Class of 2017 on Sunday — will report for his first day at the Naval Academy on June 29, where his father will swear him in as he administers the oath of office. But the wait to get into his first-choice school wasn't easy, he said. It was the last school he heard back from, and he was starting to worry.

When they were sitting on three academy offers before hearing back from Annapolis, he started talking about touring the other academies with his father, who served as an active Navy judge advocate for about seven years and in the reserves for 16 before retiring last December.

"It was a pretty big day around our house when we knew he was in," Dale said. "I just hope it works out for him because he deserves it."

Kevin accepted the appointment as soon as he received the letter in mid-February.

The military is not a lifestyle Dale Harris would recommend for all of his children, but he said Kevin is a strong fit and knows what he's getting into.

Kevin credits the support network he had growing up and during the application process for the opportunity he achieved — from his parents, who made sure he didn't slack off in school, to his extended family and friends, who didn't always quite understand the process, but encouraged him anyway.

"My dad always wanted to make sure this was something I wanted to do," he said. "This isn't something I feel like I have to do. I want to do it. I give him a lot of credit for making sure it's what I want."

He confirmed this the summer before senior year when he attended a seven-week program at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. The program, called Plebe Summer, is a chance to give interested students a taste of life on campus so they can determine whether it's a good fit.

For Kevin, it was. He enjoyed waking up at 5 a.m. to do push-ups and sit-ups in the middle of the field; he said it's just the kind of challenge he appreciates. After the program, he got to work on his application right away.

The progress he made with his application so early on stuck out to Dane. He said it was indicative of just how serious Kevin was about pursuing a service academy appointment. Kevin had finished by late summer, Dane said, even though the deadline isn't until the end of January.

The two met three times during the application process, and Dane said he noticed several characteristics that set Harris apart, including his commitment to serving the country, strong test scores and a humble demeanor.

"I have been doing this for five or six years, and I have never seen higher ACT scores," Dane said. "He could have been kind of self-observed or self-promoting, but it seemed to be just the opposite, very humble character."

Kevin also credits his senior year history teacher and hockey coach of two years, Craig Peterson, who wrote the letter of recommendation Kevin used to apply to the academies; Peterson attended West Point.

If it weren't for Peterson's encouragement, Kevin said, he doesn't know if he would have applied to West Point.

Despite the Army-Navy rivalry, Peterson said he always wanted Kevin to get into the Naval Academy and points to his well-rounded interests, including band, sports and various classes.

"Kevin's very bright and thoughtful," Peterson said. "He's very task-oriented. If you give him a job, he will get the job done."

As of now, Kevin's biggest goal is to graduate; he said he knows it won't be easy. The educational opportunities drew him to school as well, and he looks forward to potentially studying in the engineering field with a minor in history or a foreign language.

He said he hopes to make a career out of active duty, but if military life doesn't work out, he said, at least his education will leave him well-prepared for civilian life.

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