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News / Clark County News

Three La Center alums graduate from U.S. military academies

Small Clark County high school saw alumni complete U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: July 14, 2019, 6:05am
10 Photos
U.S. Military Academy graduate Sean Nolan’s family has a history of military service.
U.S. Military Academy graduate Sean Nolan’s family has a history of military service. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

LA CENTER — U.S. military academies are some of the most elite colleges in the country, with as few as one in 12 applicants being admitted. La Center High School is the smallest traditional high school in Clark County, with about 125 graduates per year.

However, little La Center produced three military academy graduates this year. Patrick Mayolo, 24, graduated from La Center High School in 2012, and recently graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Also graduating from West Point was Sean Nolan, 22, a 2015 La Center graduate. Kristen Nye, 23, who graduated from La Center in 2014, recently wrapped up her four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

La Center school officials can’t recall any other local students graduating from one of the United States’ five service academies, much less in the same year.

“It says a lot about our rigor that we have with the curriculum, and collaboration we have with students and their families,” said high school Principal Carol Patton, who has been in the La Center district for 15 years. “They trust teachers to provide a well-rounded education.”

2nd Lt. Patrick Mayolo

Age: 24.

School: United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.

Graduated from La Center High School: 2012.

Area of study: Pre-medicine.

Nominated by: Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground.

2nd Lt. Sean Nolan

Age: 22.

School: United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.

Graduated from La Center High School: 2014.

Area of study: Mechanical engineering.

Nominated by: Herrera Beutler.

2nd Lt. Kristen Nye

Age: 23.

School: United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Graduated from La Center High School: 2014.

Area of study: Behavioral science.

Nominated by: Herrera Beutler.

It takes more than a well-rounded education to earn acceptance to one of the service academies. At West Point, applicants must fill out a cadet questionnaire, apply for a congressional or service-connected nomination and pass a medical exam and fitness assessment, along with scoring well on the SAT or ACT. The Air Force Academy asks for much of the same, as well as an extracurricular activities record, a writing sample and a personal interview.

The fitness assessment for both schools tests an applicant’s ability to throw a basketball from a kneeling position, pull-ups or flexed-arm hang, 40-yard shuttle run, abdominal crunches, pushups and 1-mile run.

All service academies also make a point of seeking out students who have shown leadership qualities.

Mayolo, Nolan and Nye all made the grade.

“They are three amazing individuals who would always step up to help others,” said Patton. “They were very responsible. They were amazing students. They had high GPAs. They were very involved in school, athletics, activities and student government. They were involved with everything.”

Mayolo’s younger brother, Jeffrey Mayolo, is now also at West Point. Along with Megan Muffett, there were four La Center High School grads at West Point this most recent school year.

“I didn’t know anybody else there with four people from their high school,” Nolan said.

Here are profiles of the three graduates:

Patrick Mayolo

It’s been a busy summer for Patrick Mayolo. The 2012 La Center High School alumnus moved to Arizona, got married and is preparing for his first year at the University of Arizona College of Medicine at the school’s Phoenix campus. Mayolo said he would love to be an orthopedic surgeon, or work in anything surgery-related.

He has years of study and work ahead. He has to complete four years of medical school followed by a surgical residency. Then he’ll owe a combined nine years of service to the military: five for covering his undergraduate degree and four for covering his time in medical school.

“I was motivated to do it because I want to help people,” he said. “Serving in the military is a noble calling, as is to help people who really need assistance.”

Mayolo was one of 19 cadets from his West Point graduating class of 1,000-plus to earn the scholarship to attend medical school. It was always his goal, he said, as he has long had an interest in science.

Mayolo applied to West Point as a senior in high school, but he wasn’t accepted. Mayolo is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so he applied to go on a mission trip. He spent the next two years in Mato Grosso, Brazil. His time in Brazil only strengthened his desire to attend West Point and go on to medical school.

“The most important thing I gained from that experience is humility,” Mayolo said. “The experience of being a kid who excelled in high school and did well, and then being thrown into Brazil and not speaking the language at all, it just broadened my perspective.”

While there, Mayolo taught English, helped people work through addictions, and assisted individuals in building homes. It was his first time leaving the country. He started his West Point application process while still in Brazil, but still had some work to do after returning to America. The former high school wrestler said the only workouts he could really do in Brazil were early in the morning, before breakfast.

“Thankfully I got back from my mission in late February of 2015,” he said. “I spent about three months going to the gym twice a day, running, going to wrestling practice at New Athlete (in Vancouver). I got back and got to work.”

When he arrived at West Point, he walked on to the wrestling team. He wasn’t the only La Center graduate on campus. Sean Nolan, who is a few years younger, was also there. The two didn’t know each other too well before going to West Point. Nolan was close to Mayolo’s younger brother, but the two bonded over their shared Clark County roots.

“It was nice to always see a familiar face,” he said. “During our freshman year, we had a lot of restrictions on what we could do, so it’s always nice to run into a smiling face you recognize from home. It just made me really proud to see another student from the same high school.”

Kristen Nye

Kristen Nye’s journey to the Air Force started when she was 4 years old on a flight to Disneyland.

“I was on the plane and it was just so cool looking out at the wings,” she recalled.

Nye kept up with her interest in flying, and eventually attended a weeklong summer seminar at the Air Force Academy after talking to a friend’s father, who had graduated from the school. She went on a few flights in smaller planes while in high school. She knew she wanted to attend one of the service academies, and applied to the Air Force, Army and Naval academies. Her top pick was the Air Force, and she found out she had been accepted while on a call with a recruiter from one of the other schools, who let the news slip.

The adjustment to military life was hard for Nye at first. Freshmen can’t wear civilian clothes, and when talking to friends from home, Nye knew her college experience was quite different.

“I had to adapt to new challenges,” she said. “My friends were away and all partying, and I’m sitting here thinking I had a good day because I finally didn’t get yelled at.”

While there weren’t any other La Center alumni at the academy, Nye was able to bring her best friend to school: Sunny, her horse. Nye was on the equestrian team in high school, and she and Sunny joined the rodeo team at the Air Force Academy. After a rough day, Nye would go sit in the stalls and visit with Sunny, or ride her out on the miles of trails near the school.

“I would go in there and give her a hug, even though she doesn’t like hugs,” Nye said. “She would let me, though. Suffering can bring people together.”

She was also able to volunteer with Sunny, working with veterans with PTSD, allowing them to stroke and be near the horse.

Academy life took a physical toll on her. She tore both shoulders, her right knee and had a concussion at different points in her four years in Colorado. When injured, she still trained whatever body parts were healthy enough to use. When feeling weak, all Nye had to do was take a look at the tattoo on her left bicep: “The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow.”

“It was a quote I came across and it just resonated with me,” she said. “Instead of tearing myself down, I’m trying to build myself up.”

Nye hasn’t yet decided whether to pursue flight training in fighter jets or heavy aircraft. Currently she’s just interested in “anything that flies.” Next, she’ll head to a base in Columbus, Miss., to continue her training. She owes the Air Force 11 years of service, although she plans on sticking around longer than that.

“I’m staying in until they kick me out,” she said.

Sean Nolan

Sean Nolan knows that during his time in the military, he’ll probably see some combat. In fact, Vice President Mike Pence said as much earlier this year.

“It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life,” Pence said in an address to the West Point graduating class, according to a transcript on the White House’s website. “You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen.”

Nolan isn’t worried.

“It’s what we train for,” he said. “It’s what we do.”

Nolan learned about West Point in seventh grade and quickly focused on getting into the academy. He played soccer, basketball and football. He was a member of National Honor Society at La Center High and the Clark County Youth Commission.

“They’re looking for people who challenge themselves,” he said. “That’s what I tried to do.”

Nolan said he plans on staying in the military longer than his five-year minimum commitment. He said that he might like to return to West Point to teach at some point.

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“I like the military lifestyle,” he said. “I like the culture it serves.”

A culture of public service runs in the family. His parents, Michael and Erin Nolan, met while working for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. His aunt graduated from West Point and served in the military. His grandfather was a military lifer, serving in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He died a few years ago, but lived to see his grandson accepted to West Point.

“He was proud,” Nolan said. “He remembered taking my aunt there, and he always liked visiting.”

Later this summer, Nolan will continue his training at Fort Benning, Ga. He continued his leadership work at West Point by leading a tank platoon. During downtime, he would sometimes go visit a friend in Connecticut and golf, or just hang out.

This summer, Nolan returned to La Center while on leave. He met up with friends, attended a wedding and caught people up on what he’s been doing.

“It’s a lot to balance, the academic part, and the physical and medical obligation,” he said. “It’s a lot different than the typical college lifestyle. It gives you a bit of a different perspective, especially when you talk to people. You’re doing something pretty different.”

Columbian Staff Writer