Henry Clay High School senior accepted to three military academies
Fewer than 10 of every 100 applicants are offered appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, according to the academy’s most recent admissions report.
Those odds are tough. But in 2019, one Henry Clay High School student beat them — three times over.
Anna Marie Gilligan, a senior at Henry Clay High School who graduates next Tuesday, received acceptances from three major U.S. service academies: the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
She has since accepted the appointment to the Naval Academy and will begin attending this summer.
“This is everything I could have ever hoped and worked for,” Gilligan, 18, said. “Everything I did, all of the struggles and the time management… it was worth it.”
The service academy application process includes a rigorous physical portion, multiple interviews and at least one congressional sponsorship.
Gilligan was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rep. Andy Barr.
Barr said he has “no doubt that Anna Marie will do great things during her time at the U.S. Naval Academy and beyond,” and described Gilligan’s accomplishment as “truly exceptional.”
McConnell also commended Gilligan.
“When reviewing Henry Clay High School senior Anna Marie’s application, it became clear her exemplary talent and commitment to service deserved nomination to not only a single school, but to three,” McConnell said. “I’m confident she will excel at the U.S. Naval Academy and continue to make our Commonwealth proud.”
Gilligan said she has planned to apply to a service academy since she was in middle school. After becoming a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) member at Henry Clay, that plan evolved, but it did not change.
As a JROTC cadet, Gilligan participated in raider’s team and several community service efforts. She said the experience has been transformative.
“I’ve seen (JROTC) change lives, get people into college, get people into the career they want to be a part of, including myself,” Gilligan said.
Gilligan has also run cross-country and played for Henry Clay’s lacrosse and swimming teams.
“One (sport) for every season,” Gilligan said. “I wanted to stay busy and physically fit.”
The sports helped prepare Gilligan for the application’s physical portion: the Candidate Fitness Assessment. The CFA includes pull-ups, push-ups, crunches and a timed one-mile run.
Gilligan said she wanted to ace the test the first time around, even though applicants are allowed multiple attempts. But during her first attempt — which she started while jet-lagged and unusually tired — she stopped halfway through the one-mile run.
While she could have finished, she said she stopped herself short, partially on the advice of her JROTC instructor.
“(The instructor) was like, ‘I know you can do better, you could have finished this, but we’re going to try this again next week and you’re going to… give everything you can. You’re going to do your best,’” Gilligan said.
The next week, she completed the test with a much higher score. But she described the initial failure as her application’s greatest challenge.
“Running is my greatest strength,” Gilligan said. “Not being able to complete that run to the best of my ability, that was very difficult for me.”
In comparison, she said the interview process was “enjoyable,” in part because the interviews were conducted by service academy graduates.
“I love interviews,” Gilligan said. “Getting to talk to people who went through what I want to go through was exciting for me. You know, I want to tell (the graduates) why I want to do what (they) just did.”
“I love talking to people. When I go to the academy, I think I want to be a public affairs officer, eventually,” Gilligan added.
Gilligan said she “knew she wanted to fly,” and originally wanted to attend the Air Force Academy. She only visited the Naval Academy after being invited later in the selection process.
That visit to the Naval Academy, which she said was “kind of a fluke,” changed her mind.
“I knew, for me and my eventual hopes of becoming a public affairs officer, (the Naval Academy) was the area and culture I wanted to be in,” Gilligan said.
In four weeks, Gilligan will leave Lexington for “plebe summer,” the rigorous beginning of her four years with the Naval Academy. She recently created an Instagram page for the Naval Academy class of 2023 in preparation, and said that around 600 incoming students have already joined.
“We’re pushing each other to become our best,” Gilligan said.
In their group messages, Gilligan said the class of 2023 encourages each other to pursue physical training with regimens like the Murph workout: two miles running, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 squats.
“It’s a little bit nerve-wracking,” Gilligan said. “We don’t know at all what we’re walking into, but we’re preparing the best we can.”
Two other students at Lexington schools were appointed and will attend a service academy this year.
Douglas Wright, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, will be attending the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy according to Barr spokesperson Jodi Whitaker; and Samuel Martin, a senior at Lexington Christian Academy, will attend West Point according to the News-Graphic.