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By Chris Kenrick
Palo Alto Online Staff
Grace Hamilton reported Monday to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Kevin Flaherty began his "plebe summer" Thursday at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
But the two recent high school graduates, from Los Altos Hills and Atherton respectively, couldn't be more different in the paths they took to their commissions in the nation's elite military schools.
For Flaherty, who graduated last month from Menlo School, following his father and brother into the U.S. Marine Corps has been a lifelong goal. "I always sort of knew I wanted to go into the military," said Flaherty, whose grandfathers also served -- one in the U.S. Army, the other in the U.S. Navy.
For Hamilton, who was a swimmer at Gunn High School, the choice was anything but planned.
"It was not a lifelong dream or interest or anything like that," said her father, Tim Hamilton, a software executive. As an active West Point cadet, Grace Hamilton herself was not available for an interview.
Like many of her fellow swimmers, Hamilton received a recruiting letter from Army swim coach Mickey Wender during her junior year at Gunn, her father said. Later, she visited the West Point campus.
"I expected her to come back and say, 'That's not for me,'" Hamilton said. "But she came back and said: 'I'm going. That's where I'm going.'
"We said: 'Grace, that's really hard to get into. You should have a Plan B,' but -- flash forward -- she didn't apply anywhere else. Her Plan B was West Point Prep School," a separate institution that prepares students for the U.S. Military Academy.
This week Hamilton and his wife, Lynn, accompanied their only daughter, the oldest of their four children, to West Point.
"They put us in a gymnasium at 6:30 a.m. with 40 cadets and their families at a time, gave a little speech and said, 'You have 90 seconds to say goodbye to your kid,'" Hamilton said.
"Twelve hours later, at 6:30, there was a parade and oath ceremony where they take an oath of service to the Constitution.
"They marched across the parade ground, and we could see Grace in the distance, in uniform, marching, saluting. It was unbelievable, amazing. They turned them into soldiers in one day."
The Hamiltons won't be able to see Grace -- or contact her, except by U.S. mail -- until the end of basic training Aug. 14, when they plan to visit.
Flaherty, an Eagle Scout, honor student and varsity football player at Menlo, was to report Thursday to the academy for the two-month summer program.
Late Wednesday afternoon he appeared relaxed, in blazer and necktie, in his Atherton home. His older brother Brian, who is about to enter his fourth year at Annapolis, also was home on break.
Flaherty said he was unstressed by last-minute packing because all the necessary gear would be issued to him once he arrived at the Naval Academy.
Unlike Hamilton, Flaherty did apply to other colleges -- 10 of them, in fact -- but, once he heard he would be commissioned, the decision was made. "There wasn't really any debate in my mind," he said.
He's given plenty of thought to the military service commitment -- and likely deployment to war zones -- that will come after his four years of college, he said.
"Iraq or Afghanistan -- that's one of the things you have to think about when you're applying because you will do that upon graduation," he said. "I consider myself ready for it, or I will be in four years."
The academy carries a minimum requirement, following graduation, of five years of active duty, plus an additional four years in the reserves, he said.
Hamilton said he thought his daughter, in her initial visit to West Point, was drawn by the notion of military service.
"Part of what she fell in love with was the idea of service, and to do something bigger than going to one of the UCs and to grad school," he said. "That really appealed to her. She saw the pride that those people have in what they're doing and that kind of higher calling of service, and she just really latched onto that."
Regarding his military choice -- not a well-trod path from Menlo School -- Flaherty said he got respectful curiosity from his friends, who are going on to such places as Southern Methodist University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan or Brigham Young University.
"Everyone was supportive," he said. "There were a lot of questions. There's sort of a mystery gray area around the academies."
Flaherty and Hamilton were two of 16 Peninsula residents nominated to the service academies by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. Of the 16, six were chosen by the academies.
"I receive many requests each year, and we take great care in choosing nominees," Eshoo said.
"The young men and women who have been appointed will make our district and our country proud."