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Cyber studies lead Latrobe grad to West Point

| Thursday, June 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
David J. Henderson, Jr., left, talks with 2012 West Point graduate, Second Lieutenant Scott McClelland, and Daniel Shaffer, the West Point liaison for Pennsylvania Congressional District 18, at Henderson's graduation party on June 2, 2013 Latrobe United Methodist Church in Latrobe.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Baby shoes worn by David J. Henderson, Jr. rest on a pair of boots on a table of memorabelia at his graduation party on June 2, 2013 at Latrobe United Methodist Church.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
David J. Henderson Jr. talks with 2012 West Point graduate 2nd Lt. Scott McClelland and Daniel Shaffer, the West Point liaison for Pennsylvania Congressional District 18, at Henderson's graduation party on June 2, 2013 at Latrobe United Methodist Church.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
A portrait of David J. Henderson Jr. at his graduation party on June 2, 2013 at Latrobe United Methodist Church.

The intense physical fitness test for the U.S. Military Academy was the least of 17-year-old David Henderson Jr.'s worries when he considered applying.

He will graduate as valedictorian Thursday from Agora Cyber Charter School with many accolades, including leading the Greater Latrobe Senior High School swim team as captain.

Henderson of Latrobe will be among the first of his peers to have completed his entire education in cyber charter schools when he joins the West Point corps of cadets July 1.

Mike Brantley, a spokesman for West Point, said, “It is rare that we would admit someone from a cyber school,” but he could not provide enrollment statistics.

Agora guidance counselor Jennifer Grubert said Henderson may be only the second student from the K-12 network of cyber charter schools nationwide to be accepted at a military academy and the first to West Point.

“Colleges are starting to acknowledge the quality students in online education,” she said. “It's exciting because it's something that hasn't happened before.”

Theresa and David Henderson Sr. said they decided to enroll all four of their children in an online charter school because David Sr. is a pastor and has served for five years as head of Latrobe United Methodist Church.

“We knew early on we didn't want our kids to be shuffled from one school to the next,” said Theresa Henderson.

When David Jr. initially became interested in attending a military academy when he was in eighth grade, his parents supported him, even though they knew it was a rigorous process.

His mother's father had spent his career in the military and his father served in the Army. The family heritage includes soldiers back to the Civil War.

“He knew he didn't want to go to a typical college. ... He kind of wanted something more,” Theresa Henderson said.

Until December 2011, when the first cyber charter graduate enlisted in the military, the diploma was considered second-tier compared to one from a brick-and-mortar school.

That policy has since changed and did not apply to military academies, so the Hendersons never had reservations about their son's interest in the rigorous application process.

“The question's never been the level of education that's available,” David Sr. said. “For us and our lifestyle and the way my job is and the feelings we have ... at the end of the day, nobody is going to take care of your children as well as you are.”

David Jr. will speak before the cyber school's 1,037 seniors as the head of the class Thursday at Giant Center in Hershey.

“He is truly exceptional,” said Daniel Shaffer, congressional district coordinator for West Point admission in Pennsylvania's 18th district. “We seem to get the best of the best. The hardest part in my job is finding deficiencies in these men and women, because they're all outstanding.”

Last June, David Jr. got his first taste of the academy when he attended the Summer Leadership Seminar as one of only 500 high school juniors admitted to the weeklong West Point orientation program.

Then, he began the application process for three of the military academies in July 2012 for interviews with Pennsylvania senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, as well as former Congressman Mark Critz.

“It was such a daunting process because there's so much involved,” Theresa Henderson said. “We never knew the competition is so fierce.”

Ten percent of the application is based on the physical fitness test, 60 percent on academic record and 30 percent on leadership potential, including extracurricular activities and community service, David Jr. said.

Each elected official can make 10 nominations to each military academy. The high school senior found out in December that Critz nominated him to all three academies.

But that wasn't the end — he still had to be accepted.

David Henderson Sr. recalled the phone call when his son received the good news.

“It was about 8 o'clock on a Thursday night,” he said. “His cell phone rang and it came up a Johnstown number. ... He immediately jumped out of the chair and he said, ‘Yes, hello, Congressman Critz.'”

David Jr. said at first he was just glad to have some certainty about his future.

“Relieved is the best word I can find,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I was going somewhere.”

That gave way to “shocked” and “thrilled,” he said. “I was absolutely ecstatic for the day.”

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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