Student shares Naval Academy experiences

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

With parents who teach for the U.S. Department of Defense, it was only natural for Tyler Hall, 21, to aspire to attend an elite military college.

“The Naval Academy was a stretch,” he said of the Annapolis, Maryland-based school that accepts less than 10 percent of its applicants each year.

“When I got in, it was probably one of the best moments of my young adult life.”

This week, Hall returned to his Lower Valley roots to visit with students curious about academy life.

In a four-day stint, Hall spoke with teens from Fox Chapel Area, Shady Side Academy, Hampton and Shaler Area school districts.

“I talked with them about admissions and what to expect,” said Hall, whose parents are based in Germany but whose extended family still lives in Indiana Township.

“These schools (Naval Academy, West Point, Air Force Academy) are looking for kids who are academically challenging themselves, involved in the community, take an active role in school groups and student government and are athletic.

“Anything I can help them with to make their application more competitive is why I'm there.”

Traditionally, there are about 17,000 students each year who apply to the Naval Academy. About 1,400 are accepted.

The visits to high schools are part of the Navy program “Operation Information,” which sees midshipmen return home to inspire and educate possible school candidates.

The program is run in this area by Capt. John Gurson, a former Aspinwall resident who serves as Deputy Area Coordinator for western Pennsylvania.

Like the academy itself, Gurson said the opportunity for return-home visits is highly competitive.

“Their grades, everything, have to be competitive so they can qualify to leave campus three days before their holiday leave begins,” Gurson said.

“They apply in September for this opportunity.”

Gurson's district encompasses the region from Erie to Penn State and south to the Maryland border. The program has reached about 16,000 high school students to share an inside view of campus life.

“Students now go online and get so much information, but to have a visit by someone in uniform, it makes a good impression on them,” Gurson said.

Hall, who has attended Department of Defense base schools in Japan, Italy and Germany, is scheduled to graduate from the Naval Academy in 2014.

He hopes to be transferred to San Diego and serve as a surface warfare officer.

During his visits with local students, Hall encouraged them to live up to their potential.

He told them to get involved with school activities, take a leadership role, be diligent in their studies and participate in a sport.

“You don't exactly have to be a huge athlete, but you can still get involved and do as well as you can,” he said.

“Be active in as much as you can.”

Bonnie Berzonski, district coordinator of communications, said Hall took the time to answer a lot of questions and shared valuable insight with students.

“He also shared some of the traditions and told stories about his Plebe summer and freshman year,” she said. “He explained about the type of student the academy is looking for and how rewarding he felt his experience has been so far.”

Hall said he's honest with teens who are considering an academy education, which is full of regimens and expectations.

It's not easy, he said.

“But it's been gratifying. It is the best choice I could have made for my college experience,” he said. “It made me get better grades than I might have otherwise.

“This isn't taking the lazy way out.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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