A phone message from Sen. Lisa Murkowski this month alerted Haines High School senior Blake Hamilton of his acceptance into the United States Naval Academy.
Hamilton, 18, found the call almost too good to be true, but then he started to inform family and friends that he reached his longtime goal.
"For one, if it was Lisa Murkowski, I doubt she would be joking around and, two, if they tried to scam me, then their voice sounded a lot like Lisa’s," Hamilton said. "I’ve heard her on the news."
He had sought nominations from Murkowski, Sen. Mark Begich and Rep. Don Young as part of an admissions process that included essays, an interview, physical examination and submitting letters of recommendation.
Hamilton is set to report at the Annapolis, Md., academy in July. He will have a five-year Navy commitment following graduation and likely will hold the rank of an ensign. Free tuition, room and board are included with admission, and Hamilton will be provided a stipend for other expenses.
The son of Scott and Jan Hamilton was a cross-country state qualifier. He is a member of the Haines Dolphins swim team, hosts a live radio show on KHNS and has participated in track, National Honor Society and Student Council.
"We own a 37-foot sailboat, and we’ve sailed everywhere between Seattle, Washington, and Seward," Hamilton said. "That was one of my strong points when I wrote my essays and had to answer questions, because I’ve just done so much sailing."
High school science teacher Mark Fontenot said Hamilton has an "uncommon work ethic" and is driven to learn. "He’s a very self-disciplined guy, and he seems to thrive on high expectations."
He has instructed Hamilton in biology, chemistry, earth science, engineering and physics courses.
"He’s in the top 2 or 3 percent of any that I’ve taught in 17 years," Fontenot said.
He wrote a recommendation letter to help Hamilton garner acceptance at the academy.
"He recognizes that the quality of education he can get there for free is unmatched," Fontenot said.
According to the Princeton Review’s most recent statistics for college admissions at www.princetonreview.com, the Naval Academy accepted 1,464 students out of 17,419 applicants, for an acceptance rate of about 8 percent, just above the 7 percent rate at Harvard University. Numbers for this year’s entering freshmen are not yet available.
Hamilton said he chose the Naval Academy over a full ride at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and a scholarship at Washington State University.
"I did think about (applying) to the Air Force Academy, but then I realized there’s a chance that I wouldn’t be able to fly, because of my eyes," said Hamilton, who wears glasses. "… Whereas, if I go to the Naval Academy, there’s a chance, if I can get surgery, I could still fly planes if I wanted to, and it’s on the coast, so I would be able to join the sailing team."
Hamilton got an early taste of the Naval Academy when he attended a summer seminar for about a week in 2010 and followed the same strict schedule as full-time midshipmen.
"When I went to the summer seminar, I was meeting all these kids from Iowa and Wisconsin, and they were great kids, but they had never sailed or anything, and I really do feel that the unique experiences I’ve had in Alaska really pushed me over," he said.
Hamilton said he is prepared to start his days around 5 a.m.
"I’m the kind of person that if I don’t go to swim practice or I miss a day of weightlifting, I feel like I cheated myself or something, so to have the opportunity for it to be mandatory to keep in shape, I would not mind that at all," he said. "Also, I don’t really have a problem with authority."
Hamilton is interested in studying ocean engineering and would like to be stationed on a submarine.
Hamilton, who has an older sister, Maarit, and a younger brother, Alden, said he has developed strong connections to Haines High School teachers.
"They get to know you, and you get to know them, so you can have this relationship that you can’t really have at bigger schools," he said.
Hamilton said he will miss the Alaskan wilderness "and the fact that you can go to a place and you can be the only person within miles."
"I know I’m going to leave and I’m going to miss it, but when I come back it will be that much more enjoyable," he said. "I think I’ll definitely end up coming back at some point, permanently, just because it’s such a great place."