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River Ridge senior wins appointments to two military academies

Connor Beckman, center, shares his letter telling of dual military academy appointments with River Ridge High School JROTC instructors and teachers of aerospace science, left, Lt. Col. Dave Morgan and Master Sgt. Robert King.  GAIL DIEDERICH  |  Special to the Times
Connor Beckman, center, shares his letter telling of dual military academy appointments with River Ridge High School JROTC instructors and teachers of aerospace science, left, Lt. Col. Dave Morgan and Master Sgt. Robert King. GAIL DIEDERICH | Special to the Times
Published Apr. 2, 2018

NEW PORT RICHEY — It was history making.

Connor Beckman, 17 and a River Ridge High School senior, glanced at emails in physics class on March 8. He read a message, then signaled his teacher, excitement bursting forth.

"I've gotten appointments to both West Point and the Air Force Academy," he said.

The congratulatory announcement came from Congressman Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, who nominated Beckman to both military schools and the Naval Academy.

Beckman made the rounds to teachers, his guidance counselor and school principal Dr. Toni Zetzsche. In the school's 26 years, no one recalls a student gaining appointments to multiple military academies.

"I've been here 18 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said JROTC Master Sgt. Robert King.

What pushed Beckman in this direction? Maybe it started at Longleaf Elementary School. In kindergarten, Beckman became a Cub Scout, seeds of leadership, following directions and goal setting well planted. Twelve years later, Beckman attained Eagle Scout rank with a project building planters for the school's courtyard.

During his freshman year at River Ridge, Beckman said he got a much needed "kick in the butt" from Maj. Daniel Warrensford, JROTC senior aerospace science instructor.

"He spoke firmly to me about not living up to what I was capable of doing and what I could become," Beckman said. "He was very hard on me but I appreciate that. I'm so grateful to him. He only had to tell me once."

Warrensford, a former instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, talked up that school. Beckman soaked it in and started a plan to seek appointments to all three major military academies.

"Why not apply to all three?" Beckman asked. "The experiences of all would be different, but at each I could reach my goal of becoming a physician. I'm passionate about helping people."

Attending a week-long session at West Point in the summer of 2017 solidified Beckman's first choice. Cadets studied chemistry, math, life science and physics. They felt the tone of discipline and the historic air of West Point surrounding them.

"I had the time of my life," Beckman said. "The instructors were so professional, with amazing knowledge. I felt all of us there were of the same caliber, in the same bubble for the same reason. There was a strong feeling of pride." Beckman garnered a West Point award that week, the Flex Armstrong Award for Superior Polymer Pulling, an activity designed to test a student's focus, patience and self-discipline.

Beckman is the JROTC commander over 153 cadets, the high school swim team captain, National Honor Society president and was selected by a panel of community leaders as the 2018 Pasco County Outstanding Senior.

The JROTC program's Lt. Col. Dave Morgan, one of many faculty members heaping praise on Beckman, called him "a breath of fresh air — very personable with faculty, staff and peers."

"Connor stands out," King said. "He is well-liked, with quiet leadership that gets people to do things. He is leadership personified."

"Morally and ethically he's one of the top students I've ever had," said AP English teacher Samantha Evans.

River Ridge principal Zetzsche echoed these thoughts, "He's humble in his approach, but always carries himself like a leader."

Beckman is ranked 15th academically of 412 seniors and has a 4.4 GPA.

His mom, Linda Beckman, is a Trinity Target store manager. His dad, Tom Beckman of Palm Harbor, is president of computer firm Phase 3 solutions. They will bid their son farewell in July when he heads to West Point. Connor Beckman's sister, Amanda, also a River Ridge graduate, is a Texas A&M doctoral student studying birds' migratory patterns.

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