This Fourth of July had a special meaning for one Lowell High School graduate and his family. Less than a week before the holiday, Jonathan Berklich took an oath of office to enter the U.S. Naval Academy. It’s both an honor and a responsibility for the member of the Lowell High School Class of 2018 and will result in a minimum of five years’ service as a Naval Officer.
The 17-year old overcame the odds to become one of approximately 1,200 candidates selected from more than 16,000 applicants. Now starting his Plebe Summer, the period of time leading up to the start of fall classes, Berklich is preparing for an experience few are afforded. However, he knows he couldn’t have gotten to this point without the support of his parents – Paul and Mary Jane – as well as numerous teachers and mentors.
Academy Felt Like Home
Berklich says he briefly looked into the other military academies, but it was the U.S. Naval Academy that felt like home. “Being in Michigan and being surrounded by water, it seemed like the right fit,” he says.
Plus, his family has a history with the Navy. His grandfather served in the Navy while his great grandfather was part of the Marine Corps. “There’s always been that element of service,” Berklich says of his family. He wanted to continue that tradition and follow in their footsteps.
However, it wouldn’t be enough to simply want to go to the academy. As an elite school, the U.S. Naval Academy accepts only the best of the best, and Berklich started preparing to apply after his sophomore year of high school.
Applying to an Elite School
The Naval Academy judges applicants by three main factors: physical ability, academics and community service. “My whole goal was to be as best as I could be in all the different fields,” Berklich says.
He did that by taking six Advanced Placement courses – the most rigorous classes available – and graduating with a 4.111 GPA. During his junior and senior years, he was on the Model United Nations team, and he participated in the Van Andel Journal Club. That was a forum that brought together high school students and teachers from around the region to learn from scientists how to develop and analyze scientific research.
To prepare for the physical demands of the Naval Academy, Berklich played lacrosse for four years, including three years on the Lowell High School varsity team.
Meanwhile, to round out his skills, he took advantage of leadership and community service opportunities as they came his way. Berklich participated in the high school’s Interact Club for four years and served as its treasurer. That group is sponsored by the Lowell Rotary Club, and Jim White, a Lowell resident and officer with Rotary Club, invited him and several other students to participate in a life leadership conference.
Berklich says he was also able to attend Boys State in the summer between his junior and senior years in high school. He credits Dave Thompson, the former commander of the Lowell American Legion Post, for facilitating his experience in the program. During Boys State, which has been held annually by the American Legion in Michigan since 1938, high school students spend a week at the Capitol Building in Lansing to learn leadership skills and participate in mock government exercises. A separate Girls State program is held as well.
While Berklich has an impressive resume of extracurricular activities, he didn’t have to do anything extraordinary to be chosen for them. “These are all opportunities available to all Lowell students” he says. In Berklich’s case, he chose to accept the opportunities as they were presented.
During the application period, he was also assigned a Blue and Gold Officer to answer questions and provide guidance. For Berklich, that officer was Col. Benjamin Richmond, another Lowell area resident. “I would meet with Col. Richmond, and he would provide tips on improving my application,” Berklich notes.
All the hard work paid off, and Berklich was accepted into one of the most selective schools in the country. In 2018, only 7.5 percent of applicants were admitted.
Grateful for Community Support
Induction Day for the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2022 was held on June 28, 2018. Berklich drove to Annapolis with his parents and said his oath of office to become a plebe, as freshman at the academy are called.
He’s hoping to earn a degree in systems engineering or maybe political science. He’d like to become a pilot. After four years at the Naval Academy, he will graduate, become an ensign and spend at least five years as an officer in the service of his country. Although he’s still undecided, he’ll have an opportunity to apply to the Marine Corps while at the academy as well.
The journey has just begun for Midshipman 4/C Jonathan Berklich, but he knows he didn’t reach this point in life alone. “I’m really thankful for all the people who supported me along the way,” he says. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”