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Westporter soon to become West Pointer

Updated 10:44 am, Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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  • Peter Bonenfant, a 2012 Staples High School graduate, has been admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Photo: Cameron Martin / Westport News
    Peter Bonenfant, a 2012 Staples High School graduate, has been admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Photo: Cameron Martin

 

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When most people apply to colleges, they have to submit their grades, test scores, and letters of recommendation. Peter Bonenfant had to get down on one knee and hurl a basketball with one hand.

This exercise was meant to simulate the actions of a soldier throwing a grenade. It's not the typical process for college applicants, but Bonenfant is not going to a typical college. He's going to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

"I always wanted to serve in the military in some way, and when I got into high school, I got introduced to the idea of going to West Point by my dad," said Bonenfant, 19, a 2012 Staples High School graduate. "I'd never heard of it before. I had no idea what it was. As I researched it more and more, I thought, `OK, I want to do this.' "

Bonenfant's father, Ron, served in the United States Coast Guard Reserve and he fostered an appreciation of the Armed Services in his son.

"I like the idea of serving my country," Peter Bonenfant said. "I know that living here in Westport I've been pretty blessed and granted a lot of chances to be successful. And basically I just want to give back in whatever way I can."

Admission to West Point is notoriously competitive and time-consuming. Not only do applicants need outstanding academic records, they need to take a physical fitness test to prove they're in superior shape. They also need a letter of recommendation from their United States congressman.

Bonenfant was nominated by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4.

"I am proud to have nominated Peter to West Point and look forward to following his career," said Himes in a statement to Westport News. "By attending West Point, Peter is demonstrating an inspiring commitment to defending our nation and advancing our ideals, and I wish him the best of luck at West Point and beyond."

Bonenfant's path to West Point was more labyrinthine than most.

He applied as a senior at Staples, but was rejected.

"It was definitely frustrating," he said. "I knew it was a very selective place. I was sort of preparing myself to not go there. Mentally I was sort of saying you're probably not going to get in, so don't expect to get in. And I didn't. And it was frustrating. And initially I said I'm not going to apply again."

He subsequently received a three-year ROTC scholarship to Catholic University in Washington, D.C. While enrolled at Catholic this past school year, he decided to give West Point one more shot. Once again he didn't get in, though this time he was waitlisted. He then received a letter that said he was qualified but that he could still not be offered a spot.

He abandoned hope of gaining admission.

"West Point was just off the radar. I forgot about it," he said.

Then in early May, Congressman Himes called Bonenfant's house and left a message that said Bonenfant had been granted admission.

"I was floored," Bonenfant said. "My parents kept the voice mail and I listened to it like four or five times. I thought this can't be real. It was really exciting."

He has to report to West Point on July 1 to begin his first year. After one year of college, he said going to West Point will be more like going back to high school.

"I'm most apprehensive about moving from college where I could basically do whatever I wanted and having the freedom to have a flexible schedule," Bonenfant said. "I could study when I wanted, work out when I wanted, eat when I wanted, to moving to, it's sort of odd, but going back to high school where you eat at this time or go to class at this time. And so your day ends at the same time every day and you do it all over again."

He said playing football at Staples might have helped him prepare for life in the military.

"We have a great program over there at Staples. I've had coaches yell and get up in my face. They don't sugarcoat anything. So I'm used to guys screaming at me and tell me what I'm doing wrong. So mentally I think I'll be prepared."