Anne Caitlin Starner, a graduate this year of Cape Coral High School, has received an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The appointment is the equivalent of the offer of a four-year scholarship to a top tier university; its value, based upon cost per graduate, is estimated to be $403,000.
"A lot of work goes into getting an appointment," Anne's mother, Darlene, says. "She worked extremely hard to get it and we are very, very proud."
Anne Caitlin Starner
When Anne graduates, she will receive a Bachelor of Science degree and be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
"Wow," said Anne's brother, Adam. "I am extremely proud of her. It's like a miracle." Adam may be responsible, in part, for the miracle. When he was a sophomore in college and considering a career in the Marines, he did some research on the military academies and shared with his younger sister, Anne, the wealth of opportunities available to academy graduates.
"Yeah, I thought," said Anne. "That's kinda cool."
"But I knew it was a long shot," Adam said.
The application process began in January of Anne's junior year at Cape Coral High when she applied for admittance to a summer seminar at West Point. Anne would change her mind about West Point, however, and consider the Naval Academy at Annapolis before she finally set her sights upon the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where the ringing answer to the question, "What is your altitude?" is, "Seven thousand two hundred and fifty-eight feet- far, far above West Point and the Navy, Sir!"
During spring break of her junior year, Anne attended Academy Day at Florida Gulf Coast University. Recruiters from the army, navy, air force and coast guard academies met there with interested students and Anne received her first application form, of which, throughout the following 12 or more months, there would seem to be no end. In addition to the paperwork and an impeccable academic and community service record, Anne would have to receive nominations to the academy from a United States congressman, a U.S. senator and the vice president of the United States.
"How do you get a nomination from the vice president of the United States?"
Anne's father, Brad, smiled and shrugged. "More paperwork."
"Anne doesn't fit the profile of the kind of person they're looking for in any way, shape or form," Mr. Starner continued. "We told her from very beginning that if this works out, it's God's work because you probably have a 0 percent chance of this working. We wanted to be realistic about it and apply to other schools and she ended up with full academic scholarships to other colleges, but this academy application kept moving along from one phase to the next and in every single phase something would happen where it looked like the whole process was falling apart when all the sudden, out of the blue, that piece resolved itself."
To secure her nominations, Anne had 15-minute to half-hour interviews with her 19th Congressional district house and senate representatives.
The applications and nominations processes were all going on at the same time, "plus I was trying to study, I had IB internal assessments (Cape Coral High School is a member of International Baccalaureate World School, an advanced academic education program), English orals, extended 5000-word essays, community service hours, and on top of all this stuff I had bowling and I was directing a play"
Anne's friend, Brenna Marcado, who thinks Anne's appointment is "amazing," confirmed, "Her whole senior year Anne was always working, always saying she can't go out, she has to do her homework."
Anne graduated Cape Coral High School this June with greater than a 5.0 GPA while maintaining membership in the national Spanish Honor Society, serving as president to the Thespians Society and vice-president of the Drama Society. She played Anne in Anne of Green Gables and directed Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.
And yet, she says of herself, "A year and a half ago I was a couch potato. I did nothing athletic."
And yet, for two years, Anne received a varsity letter in bowling and she enjoys equestrian sports with Holly Oaks Stables.
"I was very academic and theater-focused-not very well rounded," Anne says.
"Theater-focused" includes an appearance in Footloose with Creative Theater Workshops and on numerous programs with Nabbie's Productions, Inc. She studied voice under Susan Neikamp and Carol Nabatoff and dance with Creative Arts Dance Center.
Applicants to the Air Force Academy are not judged on academic achievement alone; leadership performance and athletic participation are also requisite. The Air Force's description of the process of securing a nomination as "competitive" is an understatement. When asked where the self-discipline and drive to get through the endless paperwork and interviews, the academic, athletic, and community service demands of her senior year, Anne says without hesitation that it derives from "my religion. I am a Christian. I feel that I am being called to do this. From the very beginning I knew it was a shot in the dark, but I said I'll go for it and do my best and if I don't get it, then I'll know God has other plans for me."
Anne said also that, "The biggest thing I didn't want to happen was for me to start this and be one of the 10,000 people who started an application and didn't finish it. I told myself I was going to finish it no matter what. And I wrote this letter to myself telling myself why I am doing this, so later, when it gets really hard, I can read it and feel better. Part of the letter Anne wrote to herself is a quote from I Corinthians, chapter 9, verses 24-25:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."
Anne's spiritual beliefs and her personal performance standards may explain the how of her indefatigable efforts to secure this nomination, but what explains the why of them? The answer may be her work as a youth leader with New Hope Presbyterian Church, along with her volunteer work at the Rehabilitation Center of Cape Coral. When asked why she has chosen a military academy education, she answers-again, without hesitation, "I want to make a difference. People always want to hire academy graduates, so, no matter what I decide to do after (after four years of undergraduate work and five years of military service), I will be able to find a job that will help me to help other people. I'm not sure how yet. I just know I want to help people."
It would appear that Anne's acceptance to the academy was, after all, "meant to be." Out of approximately 10,000 applications, only some 1200 made it over every obstacle on that long and arduous course to the winners' circle and only 25 percent of those appointees were women. Anne is one of the 300 women who will enter the United States Air Force Academy this summer as a cadet in training.
"I'm kind of terrified," Anne admits. Her hands are fisted in her lap, but with excitement, and she is grinning.
Anne's father remarked that, "you need a stable family to get the support you need to get through this." Certainly, Anne's strength must derive in no small measure from her family's own steadfast endurance of the process and from their loving support, which finds its purest expression in a song. One day this past April, during Anne's orientation at the academy in Colorado Springs, as Anne's father was driving the long road out of the academy grounds, he was listening to Sharon Hinton Smith's "Dancing on Daddy's Shoes." The song describes a little girl learning to dance by standing on her daddy's shoes and ends with her dancing on his shoes at her wedding. As Brad Starner drove away, the full realization that his daughter was leaving his world and entering her own flowed through him with the music and he wept.