Auburn High's Will Anderson walked across the stage this week to get his diploma. In a little more than a month, he'll begin the journey to find his sea legs as a cadet at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
The academy first popped up on Anderson's radar when he was in fourth grade as he pondered the question of what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He had a passion for architecture and used to go sailing as a youth with one of his friends. He had his passion further sparked by watching the America's Cup on TV in 2010.
"They were like flying on the water because they hydrofoil up. It was just incredibly interesting to see how that worked and the processes behind that," he said. "It started out when I was little I wanted to work as a naval architect, and they’re one of the few programs that offered that. And I started looking into the Coast Guard and what they do.
"I never thought I’d get accepted, though, so it was always in the back of my mind."
Anderson, who was born and raised in Auburn, applied at for Auburn University, UAB and the academy.
"I didn’t think I’d get in, first off, so it was kind of a shot in the dark," said Anderson, who added he was "shocked" when he found out he was accepted. "I wasn’t jumping around or screaming or anything; I was just kind of staring at the paper like, ‘Oh. I have options now.’ Because I thought it'd just be between Auburn and UAB, so it was really cool to get that paper and be like, ‘Oh, I can go places now.’ "
That Anderson is going places is no surprise to Elizabeth Lundey, librarian specialist at Auburn High who has known him since he was young.
"He is wickedly smart and wickedly funny," she said. "He is a hard worker academically, athletically. If he’s ever given a task, he sees it through. He does not do anything in half measures."
Anderson said he would like Naval Architecture to be his course of study at the academy.
"It just seems really interesting," he said. "When I went up there for the experience program in February, they spoke about how it’s basically a little bit of every engineering, so if I decide to get out of the service later after my five-year term, then I’ll be pretty prepared for other engineering fields or something like that."
Anderson's military experience will start July 2 when he reports to New London, Connecticut for Swab Summer, a seven-week basic training program that culminates with a trip on the training vessel USCGC Eagle, a large sailboat that the U.S. received from Germany as part of war reparations at the end of WWII.
"Now, they use it to train cadets there, and it’s just basically boot camp, just getting you used to the military lifestyle," he said. "It’s going to be quite the challenge because everywhere I read about it, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, Swab Summer’s awful.
"I’m just trying to get mentally prepared for it and physically prepared for it right now."
Anderson, who ran track and cross-country for Auburn High, continues to run and do body-weight exercises to prepare for basic training.
The military experience will be new to Anderson, who never took part in JROTC. He said he doesn't feel patriotic about entering the service, but that feeling might come later after he enters the academy.
"I don’t feel like Superman or anything. I feel like it’s a job that I’m going to go do," he said. "Just since I’ve never been anywhere close to anything like that, it’s just sort of ... I feel distant from it right now. I don’t feel like I’m in it yet. But I guess that will happen when I get into Swab Summer and go through freshman year."
Anderson added that the academy's honor concept speaks to him. It reads, "Who lives here reveres honor, honors duty."
"I liked how everyone there was held accountable for what they did. Everyone seemed really, really proud to be there. I didn’t meet a single sad or angry person while I was there," he said. "You know when you get places, and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is pretty awesome. I can live here.’ It was like that. I was just sitting in that dorm room, and I was like ‘Yeah. I can see myself here.’ It was really cool to have that feeling."