Father Judge senior John Clark never backs away from a challenge. The same could be said for his friend and fellow classmate, Rohan McGuckin. Both were undeterred by the rigorous process of applying to and being accepted to a U.S. military service academy.

Clark’s strong interest in becoming a military officer, along with his propensity for challenging himself, propelled him toward the ambitious goal of applying to all five academies: the U.S. Military Academy (Army), the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

The result of all the time and energy it took Clark to apply to every Academy? He netted all five acceptances.

“Ever since I was little I’ve always wanted to serve as an officer in the military, and I definitely wanted to go through one of the academies,” Clark said. “Secondly, I wanted to fly, and you can do that through all five service academies, including the Merchant Marines. You can commission to any branch you want through the Merchant Marines which is the only academy where you can do that.”

The acceptance rates at military academies range from eight to 20 percent, and applicants must obtain nominations from their congregational representative (senator or congressman/woman) in addition to submitting ACT or SAT scores, writing essays, and completing physical aptitude and medical exams.

“I just wanted to challenge myself, and originally I didn’t think I was going to get into all five academies, especially with the low acceptance rates,” Clark said. “It’s very difficult.”

Like his friend, McGuckin also wanted to become a military officer and pursued that dream by applying to the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. McGuckin achieved a perfect record with his applications too. He received acceptances to both academies.

Clark and McGuckin have dreamed about becoming pilots, and they both have decided to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They leave for Basic Cadet Training at the end of June.

“It’s the first time in Judge history that a student has been accepted to all five academies,” said James Hozier, principal of Father Judge. “To my knowledge, this is the first time that Judge has had two seniors going to the same Academy.”

McGuckin said he had considered serving in the military, but he wasn’t familiar with the various options for becoming an officer. During his sophomore year he thought about enlisting in the Army and going through warrant officer flight training. Following his sophomore year McGuckin’s father took him to an Atlantic City air show where he had the opportunity to talk with military officers there about his goal of becoming a pilot and an officer.

“They encouraged me to pursue other routes of service, and that’s when I found the Academies,” said McGuckin, an alumnus of St. Jerome Parish Elementary School. “From there I just did everything I could to gun towards the goal.”

Rohan McGuckin stands in front of the entrance to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Courtesy Photo)

At the beginning of his junior year, McGuckin realized that applying to military academies would require a high level of dedication and commitment. “I wanted to do everything I could to catch up because I knew I was behind in starting the application process,” he said.

After attending a U.S. Naval Academy Summer Seminar following his junior year, McGuckin grew more confident in his decision to pursue admission to a military academy.

“That [experience] made me 100% sure that I didn’t really want a traditional college experience as much as I wanted to challenge myself and just surround myself with like-minded people,” said McGuckin, who is ranked 11th in his senior class. “Anytime that I’ve really felt the best in my life or been able to accomplish the most is when I’m surrounded by people who are similarly challenging themselves.”

Air shows also played a role in Clark’s dream of becoming a pilot. In 2017, he went to an air show in Millville, New Jersey, which gave him the chance to meet U.S. Navy Blue Angel pilots.

“I got autographs from them, and their commanding officer was telling me, ‘It’s a difficult path becoming a pilot, but if you want to fly, you’ll fly,’” said Clark, an alumnus of St. Cecilia School. “That quote has stuck with me since 2017, and it’s carried me through high school.”

For Clark, his desire to become a pilot emanates from his faith. “I think it’s God’s calling for me,” he said. “I feel like I was born to fly.”

While Clark has a gregarious personality, McGuckin has a more reserved temperament. Despite those differences, their high school journeys are similar. Both young men have taken challenging AP courses and they have been National Honor Society members for the past three years. Both have honed their leadership skills through extracurricular activities at Father Judge. Both have served on Student Council and excelled in athletics.

McGuckin was Student Council president, a campus ministry senior leader, and captain of the swim team during this school year. Clark, who is ranked sixth in his senior class, was a Student Council representative the past four years, and he was a founding member of Father Judge’s Non Excidet Peer Mentorship Program. Non Excidet, the school’s motto, is Latin for “He will not fail.” Clark also gained much of his leadership experience through Boy Scout Troop 290. He reached the top rank of Eagle Scout during his junior year, after completing a memorial garden for fallen police officers at the Philadelphia Police Training Center in Northeast Philadelphia.

“John is probably the most involved student that we’ve had at Judge in a while,” Hozier said. “I literally feel like he’s lived here for the past four years.

“They’ve both done so much in four years, and when you look at their resumes, it looks like they’ve made 24-hour days [into] 36 hours every day since they started high school. I don’t know how they did it.”

Participating in athletics has provided both students with memorable experiences, especially during their senior seasons.

Clark, a member of the baseball team and cross country and indoor track teams, said his fondest memories stem from the camaraderie and sense of brotherhood that he has felt — particularly while running in track meets.

“Those [track] workouts and races are definitely the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” Clark said. “You get here at 5:30 [a.m.] for a meet, and when you complete that race or that really hard work out after a long day of school, the guys are always uplifting each other and supporting each other. Those guys I became friends with on that team are some of my closest friends at the school because of those experiences we had with each other.”

A particularly memorable moment for Clark happened during a cross country meet when his younger brother Robert, a sophomore at Judge, began closing in on him near the end of a race.

“He’s really gifted at running, and he caught up to me in the last hundred meters of the race, and we’re just sprinting, and he beat me by half a second,” Clark said. “It was super-hot that day and there’s a picture of us on social media hugging each other at the end of the race.”

A highlight for McGuckin was being part of a 4×100 relay team in one of his final swim meets this past season. “We weren’t sure how well we’d do, and we ended up getting third place, which is what we aimed for because that’s first team All Catholic,” he said. “When we won, we were hugging each other and screaming on the deck, and just absolutely freaking out. It was the most memorable experience and one of the best things I’ve ever felt.”

The mental resolve required in the sports that Clark and McGuckin played and the challenging academic courses they took at Father Judge will likely help them succeed at the Air Force Academy.

“I think we’ve developed the mental toughness that we’re going to be able to make it through [the Academy] and do well there,” McGuckin said. “It’s surreal that it’s finally here, but I think we’re going to do well.”

Holzier has no doubts about Clark and McGuckin achieving their goals.

“I know they’re going to be extremely successful at the Academy and what they want to do,” Holzier said. “If they keep the same drive and self-motivation, they’re going to be able to do what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Having that high level of self-motivation is what makes them successful.”