October 21, 2021

Making the grade

Cortland High seniors off to army, navy academies

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland High School seniors Andy Ryan, left, will head to West Point and his classmate Dan Ruggiero, right, who will head to the United States Naval Academy pose Thursday with the school mascot, a purple tiger, at the school library.

Andrew Ryan met a role model at a running camp the summer before ninth grade. The fellow runner was humble, but went on to win the state meet and lead his team to a championship.

That older student later joined the U.S. Military Academy at West Point — a move that shaped Ryan’s academic career.

Ryan, who graduates Cortland High School in June, applied to West Point last year because he wanted to be like his role model. He was recently accepted.

Classmate Daniel Ruggiero always wanted to serve in the military and give back to his country. He just wasn’t sure which branch.

In Ruggiero’s junior year, with his interest in the science, technology, engineering and math, he realized the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis had the programs he wanted. He, too, was accepted.

Ryan and Ruggiero have other things in common. They’re friends, both runners and both ranked at the top of their class — third and first place, respectively.

“One of the first things I thought when I got accepted, was, ‘When is Andy going to get accepted?’ because we had both been working so hard,” Ruggiero said.

The application process required the right grades, physical fitness, leadership qualities and endorsements from congressional representatives.

Then-Rep. Claudia Tenney, (R-New Hartford), endorsed both Ryan and Ruggiero. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand endorsed Ryan for West Point and Ruggiero for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti, himself a retired U.S. Navy commander, sits on a nine-member academy selection committee that advised Tenney.

“There are a lot of things we look for,” Perfetti said. “Academics is very important, but we also look to see the candidate is well rounded, if they participated in sports and fine arts, whether they have involvement in their communities.”

Ryan has been president of student council, team captain for cross country and track, and both he and Ruggiero will graduate with an associate’s degree in May from Tompkins Cortland Community College.

Ruggiero was vice president of the National Honor Society, student council treasurer, class secretary and captain of his basketball and tennis teams.

Physics teacher Charles Canestaro said he’s seen their leadership in the student council, which Canestaro advises. Ryan even gave a talk on leadership last year and arranged a visit by city Mayor Brian Tobin to discuss leadership.

“Every year, I come across a lot of great students, but Dan and Andy are just two exceptional guys in terms of being so intelligent, and their work ethic and most importantly their kindness,” Canestaro said. “They are both really caring individuals. And I think West Point and the Naval Academy are going to be really lucky to have them.”

The interview before the academy selection committee was a prime example of when their leadership and ability to interact with adults had to shine through, said Ryan.

He was nervous, he had never been in an interview setting like that, but he was able to stay relaxed.

“And put my best foot forward,” he said.

Ruggiero said it felt so rewarding to see his hard work pay off.

He was up at 5:30 a.m. before school each morning working out for the physical fitness test, and his application to the academy started last July.

Finally he needed a waiver because he’s colorblind.

“Thursday, sitting in school, in study hall, I saw I received my colorblind waiver and I knew right away I was granted the medical qualification to get accepted there,” he said. “It was a very tough process and finally it paid off.”

After graduating and commissioning as an ensign, Ruggiero hopes to enter the field of cybersecurity and crypto warfare.

After graduating West Point as a second lieutenant and putting in the requisite service of five years in the military and three years in the reserves, Ryan wants to follow in the footsteps of family members and become an economics teacher, perhaps at a community college.

“They have always been goal oriented,” High School Principal Joe Mack said. “And it’s good to see that they have been able to, like a lot of students, reach the goals they had for themselves when they were younger. They really didn’t deviate from their plan, which is cool to see.”