Before answering a question, Vandalia graduate and Naval Academy student Bradyn Kaiser pauses momentarily, always contemplating his answer before replying. Since graduating from Vandalia High School in 2020, he’s been successful at one of the most demanding liberal arts colleges in the nation, the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
From Vandalia to the Blue Yonder
While he shares that nothing could have prepared him for ‘Plebe Summer,’ which he describes as a ‘unique experience,’ he shares that his time in Vandalia did leave him adequately prepared for the academic rigors of a military academy. He also adds that the lessons his high school wrestling coach, Coach Clay, taught him on the wrestling mat were instrumental to his success in Annapolis.
Plebe Summer is a mandatory indoctrination period that forced Bradyn to miss his high school graduation, which was postponed due to COVID restrictions. Led by upperclassmen, the seven-week period has evolved from hazing, years ago, designed to weed out potential students to what Bradyn says, today, is to mentally and physically “train, improve, and get you to where you need to be, rather than push you until you quit.” He pauses before grinning and adding (as only a current upperclassman can), “You’re still at the absolute mercy of your upper class.”
After completing the Naval Academy, Bradyn will become a second lieutenant officer in the Navy or the Marines. While availability is determined based on class rank and a variety of other factors, Bradyn plans to choose to join the Marine Corps officer ranks as a pilot. Bradyn just completed his junior year and is studying aerospace engineering. After gaining a decade of experience in the military, he intends to reassess and determine whether he wants to stay in the Marines and earn a military retirement after twenty-plus years or explore private sector careers in aviation.
When asked if he sees himself eventually returning to Vandalia, Bradyn quickly admits that while he isn’t sure, he’s open and excited by the option. He shares that his parents returned after his father retired from the Marine Corps, saying, “I think it will just depend on where I am in my life and what career I have. But I would not be opposed to coming back here at all.”
When reflecting on his time outside of Vandalia, Bradyn shares that his biggest struggle has been time management, admitting that his time is spoken for from the time he wakes at five in the morning until he goes to bed at roughly ten at night. He starts his days with physical training before transitioning to a full day of classes. His evenings get divided between training events, sports practices, and studying. While he admits he was shocked by how little time he’s had to himself and the adjustment was sometimes rough, Bradyn says that he’d already learned how to overcome adversity through wrestling and playing football for Vandalia, lessons that have since suited him well.
Bradyn shares, “Coach Clay does a great job of taking kids who have never wrestled before and making them competitive against other kids throughout the state. He’s made Vandalia a well-rounded team. Our practices make kids capable of handling adversity well, especially tough matches. We practiced hard, which translates onto the mat and life.” With a smile, he concludes, “It was a tough environment in that hot little room.”
When Bradyn looks back, he credits his time on the football field and wrestling mat as a period of self-discovery, sharing that Vandalia is a sports community that supports their teams, which strongly impacted his development. While he always knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps — who spent twentyone years in the Marine Corps — it wasn’t until late in high school that he chose to pursue the Naval Academy. The Naval Academy only accepts eight-out-of-every-one-hundred applicants and has a minimum grade point average of 3.66. The application process also requires a nomination from an ‘official source,’ such as a U.S. Representative, a U.S. Senator, or the Vice President. In Bradyn’s case, he obtained two letters of recommendation, from Republican State Representative John Shimkus and Democratic Senator Richard Durban.
His advice is straightforward and battle-proven as he looks at his life, from the wrestling mats to Plebe Summer to studying aerospace engineering. “You must find what you are passionate about and put all your effort towards it. It doesn’t have to be what I’m doing. Maybe it’s welding. It can be going to a challenging school. It can be anything. But find something you care about, plan, and work hard towards that goal.”
Bradyn has certainly made the most of the launch-pad that is Vandalia, and one can only imagine the things he will do with his life in the service of others. One thing that won’t require much imagination, however, is the pride that is felt by our community as he takes a part of us all, along with him on his journey.