SANDY HOOK – When Middletown’s Nick Cataneo came back to his senior year at MAST this week, he returned to class armed with something very few students hold clutched in their hand: a Letter of Assurance to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Cataneo, son of Darren and Andrea Cataneo, received the good news in a letter from West Point last week and immediately notified his faculty at MAST, thanking them for the background, discipline and education he has received at the Monmouth County vocational school which he credits with enabling him to earn his unique honor.
A Letter of Assurance to West Point means the admissions board at the military academy is holding a slot open for him to join the Class of 2023 at the military academy after his June graduation from MAST. The letter includes the caveat that final acceptance is contingent upon him qualifying academically and medically as well as receiving a nomination from either the Senior Naval Science Instructor at MAST, a Senator or a Congressman, and showing continued academic excellence throughout his senior year.
MAST SNSI Commander Tracie Smith-Yeoman, USN (ret) said, “This is the military academy’s way of saying we like you so much and think you’re such a good fit for West Point that we want to extend this conditional offer.” She added, “Cadet Cataneo has worked so hard for acceptance to West Point, and I am thrilled he has received his LOA. He will join a long line of outstanding MAST graduates who have attended West Point, and an even longer line of MAST grads who have chosen to serve our Nation in the military. It truly gives me confidence for the future of America.”
Cataneo does not address the fact he is the first rising senior in MAST’s history and one of few throughout the nation who ever receive the honor before senior year even begins. Rather he feels humbled and honored he has received it. “I went to MAST knowing I would be furthering my education and becoming a better person as a whole,” he said. “I knew this was the best staff and peers any high school could ever have. I looked forward to each new year there not only for those reasons but also just to stay with the people and teachers who have molded me into the young man I am. I know I can still learn much more before graduation because I can confidently say that without MAST I would have never achieved any of the biggest accomplishments in my life.”
Cataneo said he particularly wants to serve in the Army to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who both dedicated their lives to serving others in their careers as members of the New York Police Department. His father, as a 9/11 first responder, “always inspired me and instilled in me that service is paramount to a prospering country. I feel it is an honor to be able to give back to the country that has given me everything.” His choice of Army over other branches of military service, Cataneo said, is because “I’m drawn to the boots on the ground approach.” He’s got every confidence as he enters his final year of high school that he can make a true contribution to the nation as an Army infantry officer.
As a senior, Cataneo is commander of Alpha Company, in charge of 50 cadets, and is a member of the competitive drill team. He is also on the High Honor Roll at MAST going into his final year, and an avid soccer player, having played since he was seven, at Cedar Stars Academy from the 7th grade on and for Middletown High School South this year. He is also coordinating with some friends to begin a new club, Cinema Studies, a club devoted to analyzing and speaking as a group about film techniques and acting methods in selected movies.
Admittedly, it wasn’t easy getting to the point where he received the academy’s letter. “The magnitude of each task I had to complete was daunting, but it’s been an obsession to me since my freshman year. I knew that at MAST, every grade in every class would be instrumental in deciding whether West Point was meant for me. Whiles grades are extremely important, I also was aware that testing scores carry some of the heaviest weights in the application. So I took the SAT nine times and the ACT three times to be certain I was trying as hard as I could. Even though I was involved in soccer, I still worked out a program tailored for the CFA, the Candidate Fitness Assessment.” That is the physical fitness test one must take to get into any of the military academies. It includes pushups, sit-ups, pullups, basketball throw, shuttle run, and a one-mile run. “I did it every night in preparation for the test.”
The MAST senior also spent one week at West Point this summer in their Summer Leaders Experience program, another experience he said is “second to none.” Highly competitive…. only 1,000 applicants are selected from more than 6,000 who apply… the program gives high school juniors a week in June to experience life as a cadet. It also assists them in college selection decisions through a fast-paced program of academic classes, military and physical fitness training, and intramural athletics. Of the experience, Cataneo grinned and said, “West Point felt like home and it is my dream to make it so.”
Beginning his last months as a MAST student, Cataneo is well aware and accepting of the added pressure the Letter of Assurance places on him for his final year. He won’t change his approach to academics or athletics, he said, “if anything, I will work harder knowing that any major mistake due to relaxing could make me lose my acceptance into the Class of 2023.”
MAST principal Earl Moore is confident Cataneo will achieve his personal goals based on past experience. “Cadet Cataneo has shown exceptional growth and potential to succeed at West Point. I’m so proud of how far he's come since his early days at MAST, and I think he'll continue to thrive and impress at the Military Academy. I myself would be proud to serve under his command."