South Pasadena High School senior, Andrew Lee, is headed to the U.S. Air Force Academy after a rigorous application process that included nominations from Congresswoman Judy Chu and Senator Kamala Harris. Known to be a very competitive academy, along with Westpoint and Naval, that is difficult to get into, Lee says he knows the nominations were key and is grateful to all the teachers and counselors who supported him and made it possible.
Lee’s parents, Marti Ochiai and John Lee, say the counselors and teachers were instrumental in supporting Andrew and writing recommendations including counselor Ms. Ishimaru and teachers Ms. Jaroch, Mr. McGough, and Mr. Shorr. Says Ochiai, “John and I are proud South Pasadena parents and so grateful for the phenomenal foundation and opportunities that SPHS and all of our South Pas schools have provided.” Andrew is a proud graduate of Calvary Preschool, Arroyo Vista Elementary, South Pasadena Middle School and now of course SPHS. He says, “our schools did a really good job and I was able to use all of the available resources and everyone has been really supportive.”
After getting a taste of the Academy by attending the Naval Academy Summer Seminar, Lee knew that an Academy was where he wanted to be and that the Air Force was his first choice. He says, “The idea of service and discipline are the things that attracted me; it was always something I wanted to pursue but I knew the commitment was kind of rough, nine years of your life (four at the Academy and five years mandatory military service), it’s not the normal college experience. You’re forced to wake up at a certain time every day and whatnot. I didn’t know if that was what I wanted, but I really liked all the people there and,” he struggles to find the words, “it’s hard to describe, it’s a gut feeling I had, I just knew.”
Academies look for candidates who demonstrate qualities of leadership, academics, athletics and community service. In addition, applicants provide teacher and counselor recommendations along with congressional nominations. The latter is not easy to come by as the applicant must submit grades, an essay, and a resume showing community service, leadership etc. to Senators and Congressmen. Lee was invited to interview with Senator Harris and was one of only 36 selected from 600 applicants. He was also invited to interview with Congresswoman Judy Chu and ultimately received the nominations of both Senator Harris and Congresswoman Chu.
Principal Janet Anderson recognizes that this is a prestigious and great achievement for Andrew and for South Pasadena High School saying, “We are very proud of Andrew. He will represent our town and school well as he goes on to serve in the Air Force. His admission to the Academy speaks volumes about his character and work ethic. I hope he will be able to come back to speak to other students about his experience.”
Lee says, “I was always interested in one of the service academies but didn’t necessarily know which one. I wanted something new and I feel that in the future the Air Force is going to play a bigger role in the military because they deal with satellites and missiles and of course flight has its own appeal!” Lee explains that while he’s always liked airplanes, he never envisioned flying them but says he’s fascinated by how they work. He says it’s difficult to get into flight school and that flying is actually just one aspect of the Air Force. “In fact, I think Navy has more pilots than Air Force,” explains Lee, and he looks forward to exploring those aspects through the Academy where one has an opportunity to specialize.
The U.S. Air Force Academy is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado where Lee will begin a rigorous six week basic training on June 28 and classes begin for the incoming class of close to 1000 cadets in August. It’s a challenge that Lee is excited about. Every Academy cadet graduates with a Bachelor of Science and they can minor in another subject. Lee tells us he hopes to study economics along with the science, aeronautical engineering and STEM he’ll be required to take. Academy graduates enter the military as Second Lieutenants.
According to the Air Force Academy, the cadets adhere to a strictly regimented daily schedule even after graduating from Basic Cadet Training. When school starts cadets attend four classes in the morning, four classes in the afternoon, mandatory formation for breakfast and lunch with many Saturdays being spent participating in military duties, attending parades and inspections. With only three weeks off in the summer, it is indeed a rigorous program that requires dedication, sacrifice and strong self-discipline; all skills that Lee feels his life in South Pasadena has prepared him for. Upon reading his acceptance letter Lee says, “I felt elated! I immediately called my Mom and told her I had been accepted. And she said ‘what? Where?’ ” He laughs at the memory and explains that it was a long road, as it is with everyone, from visiting colleges and weighing all the options, “it’s hard to put a finger on ‘why’ but I knew it was right for me.”
When asked about the risk and worry that goes along with any military career, Lee offers, “I know my Mom was really worried at first, as I think everyone would be, and my grandparents were also, but I guess it’s just something you have to deal with. If this is what you want to do, you don’t really have a choice; it’s part of it. Everything has its own risks.” Lee is excited to get started and says, “part of the job of the Academy is to prepare you for your time after in the armed services. They help you narrow down what exactly you want to do for those five years of service.”
A very proud Ochiai-Lee family along with a proud Tiger and South Pasadenan family wishes Andrew Lee the very best as he launches his career as an officer in the world’s most proficient air, space and cyberspace force, the U.S. Air Force.