Ever since his freshman year at St. Mary’s Colgan High School, C.J. Russell, son of Randy Russell and Lisa Russell, has aimed his efforts toward the goal of attending one of the nation’s service academies.
The SMC honor student scored a direct hit Wednesday when he signed his receipt of acceptance to attend the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.
The school auditorium was filled with students, friends and family for the occasion.
“Twenty thousand like C.J. applied for a place in the Naval Academy class of 2017, and he’s one of 1,100 to get it,” said Kyle Wolf, SMC activities director, who served as emcee for the ceremony. “It takes a very special person who works very hard to get this opportunity.”
He read a letter from Cmdr. John Doswell, U.S. Naval Academy Blue and Gold Officer and area coordinator, and showed a video about the academy provided by Doswell.
Stephanie Ryan, constituent services representative for U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, brought greetings and congratulations on behalf of the congresswoman.
When it was his turn to speak, Russell thanked everyone for coming out to support him at the ceremony, and went on to express his appreciation to family, friends and his school.
“My mom came in and asked me what I was going to wear today, and she started looking at my shirts and ties,” he said. “I said no, I wanted to wear my school uniform. She said that I just didn’t want to wear a shirt and tie, which I didn’t, but I also know that I wouldn’t be getting this opportunity without everything I’ve gotten from St. Mary’s Colgan.”
Russell has attended St. Mary’s Colgan schools since kindergarten. After the ceremony he said that what he has received there has been priceless to him.
“The values and morals I’ve learned here will help me at the academy, help me stand out from everybody else,” he said.
Also, he added, some of his teachers had written letters of recommendation for him. Aware that he wanted to attend a service academy, teachers had helped him overcome academic and athletic challenges to give him the best chance to get in.
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The SMC emphasis on discipline and service has also been a big help in shaping his life, Russell said, citing service as a primary reason why he wants to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.
“I have been fortunate to have grown up in a community where service to others is an expected way of life,” he said. “Through my faith, my family, school and community, I have learned that we all have gifts to give. If it be in the classroom, or traveling to the Appalachian Mountains for a mission trip, I have found the gift is not necessarily what you gave but also what you have received. I believe service is a huge component of the military and one I understand and practice.”
In addition to his spring breaks spent helping those in need in West Virginia, Russell has also been a Red Cross blood drive volunteer and a volunteer for various youth sports clinics. He has served as sound board engineer for SMC stage productions and assemblies and for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. He has been a member of the Knights of Our Lady and served on the Parish Youth Council.
A three-sport athlete, he played football, basketball and baseball at SMC and was on the Academic All-State Basketball Team. He is a National Honor Society member and was a Boys State delegate. Russell also received the Rotary Youth Leadership Award.
He has a twin sister, Maranda, a younger sister Sydney and little brother Scott. Grandparents are Betty Dellasega and the late Charles Dellasega and Norma and Richard Comstock. Comstock is a 1955 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Russell is scheduled to report at the academy on June 27. When he graduates from the academy he will be commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer and hopes to specialize in aviation.
“I’d like to be a pilot,” he said. “I could do that on the Navy side or the Marines side.”
His mother noted that her son’s dream is now a reality.
“We’re excited for him,” she said. “We’re excited to see the next part of his adventures.”