As a junior in high school last year, Andrew Bovard did what many young men his age do when they contemplate life after high school.
He joined the Army.
But rather than walk into the office of a local recruiter, Andrew took the long route down a very narrow road that ends at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Narrow indeed. On June 28, Andrew, a recent honors graduate of Loyola Sacred Heart High School, will begin two weeks of basic training, joining around 1,300 corps cadets in the freshman class at West Point. The 4,500-student liberal arts college is the nation's most esteemed and elite military academy - 12 percent of applicants are accepted yearly.
"I was just a normal kid who liked Army guys," said Bovard, who is a state champion swimmer and past president of Loyola's Honor Society chapter.
The son of Scott and Laura Bovard, he has the lanky, cut physique of a swimmer, and will soon lose his long mop of dirty-blond hair to a military buzz and an all-expenses-paid education at the academy, located 50 miles north of New York City.
After a grueling, yearlong application process, the Bovards found out two months ago that Andrew was accepted into West Point (he'd already been appointed to the Air Force Academy as well).
The application took reams of paper in the form of applications and essays and transcripts, and a personal recommendation by a U.S. congressman from Montana - which Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg supplied.
Bovard's parents "forced me to study" and never doubted his dream of attending West Point when he decided long ago he wanted to go to the same college as his uncle, a West Point graduate.
Mom told her son that he had better buckle down, because like Marines, West Point graduates are few and proud.
"We had many talks because he's wanted to go there since he was 10," said Laura Bovard. "So I told him, ‘You have to take the hardest courses possible.' "
Eight years later, it's apparent that Andrew Bovard can take orders.
Two weeks ago, he graduated with a 3.65 grade point average, having taken a full menu of honors courses at Loyola.
"It was never easy," he said, "but it was never overwhelming. I just put my head down."
And kept it down, not just in the books, but in the pool.
A swimmer since the age of 6, Bovard is so proficient in the water that it's natural to wonder if the Navy might have been a better branch of service for him.
He's earned numerous medals over his years in the pool, and has also competed nationally as a Junior National. In February, Bovard anchored two winning relay teams and won two individual events at the state swim meet, as Big Sky/Loyola fell just one point shy of winning the overall championship.
Scott Bovard, a veterinarian, comes from a line of competition swimmers.
"It was just sort of in my genes to swim," Andrew Bovard said. "I just kept at it."
And he'll keep at it more as a member of West Point's swim team.
In the end, West Point is not about swimming, but service to country.
It is, after all, the oldest and most rigorous military academy, meant to make soldiers and leaders out of young men and women. Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama addressed its 2010 graduating class.
Though glowing with pride at their son's accomplishment, the Bovards have not forgotten, ultimately, what West Point is. Many of its graduates are currently in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
Like most Americans, Scott Bovard is thoroughly impressed with West Point cadets and graduates, but isn't much a fan of America's foreign policy - and its lack of an energy policy - which he says unnecessarily puts those soldiers in grave danger.
"(West Point cadets) are rational, thoughtful, well-educated and well-informed," he said. "What I don't trust are politicians."
Laura Bovard, too, voiced her opposition to U.S. policies she said are creating unneeded conflict in the world.
Andrew Bovard, meantime, sat comfortably in the family's living room, his opinions about U.S. foreign policy, the war on terror and America's energy future hidden behind a slight grin.
There is enough on the young man's mind.
The pride of calling himself a West Point cadet, for one.
"I get to be part of that long gray line," he said. "Men like Eisenhower, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant - all of these guys our history is filled with."
Mom, who had been holding back tears as long as she could, let them go, crossed the room to her son and held his head.
"If we had someone like Andrew in the leadership of the Army," she said, "well, I couldn't think of a better person."
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at email@example.com.