NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Anyone from New Providence who knew Joe Kelly could have predicted he would enter the Naval Academy after high school.
"If you ask any of my friends, they wouid say they always saw it coming," the second-year Midshipman said. "I don't think I would have fit in at a regular college. I definitely always wanted to serve my country. I want to give back to what the country has given me. The reason I chose the Naval Academy over other services are the choices you have."
Kelly, 19, was sent home early for Thanksgiving from Annapolis, Md., to see if he could spread the word to other like-minded students about the advantages of the Naval Academy. He's making appearances at St. Elizabeth Academy and Berkeley Heights, Madison and New Providence high schools, as well as his old boy scout troop, to answer questions about the Naval Academy.
"It takes a very specific type of person who can succeed at the Naval Academy," Kelly said. "If you really want it, you can succeed at the Academy. It has to come from within.
"I'm trying to raise awareness of the Naval Academy. A lot of people have heard of West Point, but not necessarily Annapolis. Some people don't know that the Naval Academy exists."
Anyone seeking to enter the Naval Academy instead of attending a four-year college will need to beat out the competition for a spot. According to Kelly, 19,025 applied for entry into the Naval Academy and only 1,200 were accepted, about six percent.
"The Naval Academy is looking for someone who is well-rounded and can handle a lot of activities at one time," Kelly said. "I'm going to talk about the differences between a military school and a regular college. The big difference is the atmosphere. It's serious, but in your first year, you have to rely on your classmates. You're broken into companies and whenever you need help, you're struggling with something, you can always rely on your classmates and they can always rely on you. I think that's an atmosphere you don't have at a civilian college."
First-year students at the Naval Academy are called "Plebes" and it's probably the toughest year because of all the demands. The Youngsters, or sophomores, are your mentors to the Plebes the first year.
"You can't do it on your own. It's a tough school," Kelly said. "You're with so many talented and driven individuals, it really helps you be the best that you can be."
Kelly competed in soccer, baseball and track while at New Providence High and also earned the status of Eagle Scout. He's now majoring in mechanical engineering at the Naval Academy and is a member of the Drum and Bugle Corps, which is the oldest in the country.
This past summer, Kelly spent a week at Florida's Cape Canaveral, learning about submarines.
"I had a great time," Kelly said. "They showed us what life on a submarine is like. It was a great learning experience. They have a tough life, that's for sure. The food was great. Some of the smartest people in the Navy are on submarines because of what they have to know."
After he earns his degree from the Naval Academy, Kelly plans on joining the Marine Corps for his five-year commission. The government pays for his education at the Naval Academy in exchange for a five-year service commitment from him.
Kelly suggests that anyone interested in the Naval Academy should attend a summer seminar in Annapolis after their junior year of high school.
"You stay there for a week during the summer and they show you what a day will be like," Kelly said.