Such a lineup is unimaginable for many of us who, back in the day, were happy to get accepted to any college. Chelsea Casabona, a Marco Island Academy senior, has all three of these elite and highly selective schools in her sights.
After four strenuous interviews with Congressman Francis Rooney’s nominating committee, Chelsea hit a bi-fecta. Opening her mail on November 28, she discovered that Rooney had nominated her for appointments to both the U.S Military Academy (USMA) and the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA). On December 13, in response to an early acceptance application, Columbia University notified her that she had been placed on the deferred waiting list, a hopeful reply, but one which could delay final acceptance. Hedging her bets, Chelsea has also applied to a half dozen other colleges.
The West Point nomination, however, is in the bag. It is a principle nomination, requiring only that she pass medical and physical examinations, as a prerequisite to admittance. The Air Force Academy nomination requires her to compete with all of its nominees for a place in next year’s class. “Right now, the USMA is my first choice,” said Chelsea, “I intend to proceed with the [physical and medical] testing which they require.” She is keeping all of her options open.
Chelsea’s story comes with an unusual twist. Neither of her parents are college graduates, although her father does have an associate’s degree.
Chelsea’s mother, Cheryl, grew up in the slums of Jersey City, New Jersey. Cheryl says that her father was a repeat offender and deserted the family after Cheryl’s birth; She states that her own mother was an addict. “I never knew where I would be sleeping each night,” says Chelsea’s mother, Cheryl, “I was pretty much on my own.”
Angel Casabona, Chelsea’s dad, is a first generation Cuban-American, who also had a rough and tumble life growing up in Passaic, New Jersey, just 16 miles from Jersey City. Both went on to distinguish themselves in the Passaic Police Department, Cheryl, working homicides as a detective sergeant and Angel commanding a special investigations unit as a detective lieutenant. They provided a secure home and support for Chelsea and her siblings. “My mom’s life story has been inspirational to me,” Chelsea said, “She is an exceptionally strong woman who overcame daunting obstacles.” (Cheryl’s police career was tragically cut short in 2013, when she sustained debilitating back injuries during an arrest.)
“Chelsea has been self-motivated since she was a little girl,” says her dad, “People have always gravitated to her for leadership. They know she gets things done.” Her moth- er recalls Chelsea as “always on top, whether academically or in sports.” She adds, “Chelsea is very responsible. She always seemed to be the go-to person at school.” Cheryl says she told Chelsea to ease up a little but got nowhere. “When I promise to do something, I have to do it,” Chelsea told her.
Chelsea has always exceled academically. At MIA, she has maintained a 4.0 GPA (4.87 weighted) while taking some of the most challenging courses offered. This stringofA’swasbrokenonlybyaBinSpanish in the 7th grade. “I was mortified when I got that B,” Chelsea said, “Especially since my dad was fluent in Spanish.” She vowed it would never happen again. It hasn’t. “Chelsea is an amazing, young female, says MIA Principal Melissa Scott, “She is strong, confident, and passionate. She believes in furthering the minds and passions of all that surround her and fights powerfully and positively to make her voice heard.”
But it is in athletics that Chelsea has had some of her most satisfying moments. She has captained the MIA girls basketball and volleyball teams for the last three years. However, judo is the sport that best showcased her individual drive, athleticism, and competitiveness. Starting to train at the age five, she rose to be New Jersey state champion at the age of ten. A few years later, she won silver in the Junior Olympics, despite having to compete against girls who were ten pounds heavier. “I weighed in at just two ounces over the limit,” Chelsea said, “this put me in the next higher weight division.” When her family moved to Marco Island in 2015, Chelsea had to discontinue her judo training.
It is at MIA where Chelsea’s future began to crystalize in her own mind. She is particularly beholden to social studies teacher, Mrs. Galiana and her Global Perspectives class, which got her interested in International Relations, a field which Chelsea wants to make her life’s work.
“Chelsea Casabona is an inspiring young woman and truly a pleasure to teach,” says Mrs. Galiana, who was recently nominated for a Golden Apple award. “She is enthusiastic about learning and always makes a positive contribution in class. She listens carefully to all who speak and thoughtfully responds. Chelsea received the highest level of distinction for her AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) diploma, after successfully receiving two college credits for her research papers in AICE Global Perspectives and Research. Chelsea will make a positive difference in her pursuit of international relations and leadership.”
Chelsea also mentions Ms. Chapman for her excellence in teaching math, and English teacher, Mr. Scalia, “for allowing his students to find their own voice.” “MIA is a close knit family,” Chelsea says, “The teachers have the best interests of their students in mind. [Because of the small student teacher ratio of 16-1] the teachers get to know you personally. They help you make decisions which will help you to accomplish your goals in life.” The culture and environment of MIA was a major factor in helping her to realize her goals, she says.
But, “Why West Point?” I asked, “You could end up in a war.” Instead, Chelsea looks at it as an awesome opportunity. “I love an environment where I’m surrounded by super competitive people and leaders,” she said, “The only way to grow and get better is to go through difficult challenges.” She can never forget what her mother went through. “Since my parents gave of themselves to the country, I want to do the same.” As for war, she admits that billet in Iraq would be a possibility. She says she has friends in Iraq, having met them at an elite international seminar in Vermont last summer. “It was easy to connect with them,” she said, “We are all the same at the core.”
Chelsea lives with her parents and younger brother Jake in Marco Island. Her dad is an overqualified patrolman with the Marco Island Police Department. Her mother is essentially disabled and in constant pain from injuries sustained from the particularly violent 2013 arrest in Passaic. “Her spinal column was pulverized,” said Angel, “For a whole year, it was one surgery after another.” Cheryl Casabona, an attractive strawberry blond, still has a lot of fight in her though. It is easy to see how she has inspired Chelsea.
In addition to her school activities, Chelsea has two part time jobs, as a hostess at the Island Country Club and a cashier at Publix. She says she doesn’t want to be a burden to her parents. “Besides,” she says, “I don’t like asking for money.” With appointments to either service academy or a scholarship to Columbia, she won’t have to ask for much. She is also mentors students, and as always, can’t seem to turn anyone down. She is currently walking interested students through the nominating process for the U.S. service academies.
Wherever she ends up and if past is prologue, those around her will learn that they can always count on Chelsea to do whatever needs doing. Then, they can stand back and watch.