Hilario, a 2011 graduate of Cleveland Early College High School @ John Hay, was coming home in some ways. Not that New Tech was ever his home school; it wasn’t. But its roots in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District brought a certain level of comfort to Hilario, whose future was shaped by his teachers and his experiences in Cleveland’s public schools.
“My high-school experience taught me to always be determined to get what you want and not to settle for less,” he said. “With going to John Hay, which was like a magnet school, I was surrounded by other people that were of my caliber. I always had to challenge myself – to outdo other people that were in my class.”
He graduated No. 3 in the Early College Class of 2011, his 4.8 GPA having left him a shade away from class valedictorian.
“But I wasn’t Superman,” he told his audience.
His time at John Hay prepared Hilario, 19, for success -- no easy thing to achieve for Hispanic and black males from an urban school district.
Yet that never deterred Hilario, who knew what direction he wanted to travel after high school: He wanted a career in the military. He didn’t know, however, that military would mean West Point. He hadn’t given the academy a thought until Erin Frew, his principal at Early College and the principal now at New Tech West, cornered him and urged that he apply.
He weighed Frew’s suggestion and decided he would. He spent close to 12 months putting all the paperwork together he needed for the application. Even with his good grades and strong recommendations, he couldn’t be assured of a spot in the Class of 2015. The academy receives 15,000 applications each year; roughly 1,100 are chosen for admission.
The long odds didn’t concern Hilario. He relied on wise counsel from Frew and others in his life, people who steered him to the connections he would need for recommendations.
In his talks with the New Tech students, he shared the totality of his admission process and of the lessons he’s learned in his two years on campus, soaking up the benefits of a free education that, once done, will have a sticker price of more than $400,000.
Though just completing his second year, Hilario has had no reason to question his decision. The rigid discipline the academy demands isn’t daunting; it has helped him grow.
“I’m not a kid anymore,” said Hilario, who had visited his alma mater earlier in the day. “I have to take accountability for myself and all my actions.”
Accountability starts and ends with his work ethic, he said. His days are long and grinding; they all include academic and physical challenges that he must defeat. He is on the boxing team at West Point; he’s earned his certification in SCUBA diving; and he’s traveled, visiting places that he never thought he would.
More travel awaits him in the future, which includes a mandatory five years of service after graduation. That’s fine with Hilario, who sees himself putting in 20 years or more.
For now, Hilario’s goal is just to get to his third year, when more and more opportunities and freedom from the rigid structure, plus a $35,000 bonus, will come his way.
“It’s a different culture,” he said of West Point. “That’s for sure. It’s a little shock at the beginning, but I coped with it well, because I mentally wanted to be in the military.”