Lee Christian senior bound for West Point

Student carries on family legacy of military service
Mar. 06, 2013 @ 05:38 PM

When Thomas Joyner travels to West Point in the fall, he'll be continuing a family tradition of service that goes back to the Civil War. He'll also be fulfilling the dreams of his late father.

"I don't remember a time I didn't want to go there," the Lee Christian School senior said Wednesday. "I heard about it when I was 8 or 9, and I knew that's what I wanted to do."

Joyner, a four-year member of the quiz bowl team who also plays soccer and baseball, already had ROTC scholarships to four schools, including N.C. State University. He had even planned to go there in order to stay close to his mother, Luzmila, and his sixth-grade brother, Edward — especially because his father, William, died less than a year ago. But when Thomas learned that he had been accepted into West Point this past Saturday, his mother encouraged him to follow his dreams.

"This is something he's always wanted," said the school volunteer, who goes by Mila. "I can just see it in his eyes."

So Thomas, who spent a week at a camp last summer on West Point's campus in upstate New York, will go back and spend the next four years at arguably the most famous military school in the world. If he makes it through, he'll have completed a major from one of the school's 13 academic departments — he said he's leaning toward engineering but isn't sure yet — and then join the Army as a second lieutenant and sign a five-year contract.

He'd have to serve for another 16 years afterward to match his dad's 21-year career, but in one aspect, Thomas has already accomplished one thing his father didn't —  just by getting into West Point. He said his dad, who retired as a master sergeant in the Army's special forces, known as the Green Berets, wanted to go to West Point but didn't have the grades. So all throughout his schooling, Thomas said, his dad insisted on good grades.

Lee Christian School Administrator Stephen Coble said it worked.

"Thomas has been impressive ever since he came here in K5," Coble said, adding that the student has always been dependable: "His best trait is that he's easy to trust."

Coble, a Navy veteran and Citadel graduate who coached Thomas on the quiz bowl team, said he's the school's first student to be accepted to West Point, although many have joined the military and one is set to graduate from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., this spring. Many others pursue education and careers outside the military, Coble said.

"Most of our kids have been able to go wherever they set their hearts," he said. "Thomas is a perfect example of that."

West Point's rigorous acceptance process includes a strength and endurance test, and applicants must have letters of recommendation from senators, the president or vice president or, in Thomas's case, a general. For the school's current first-year class, the average SAT score was 1,281 out of 1,600 (271 points higher than the national average). Almost every student was in the top half of his or her class, and more than 12 percent were named valedictorian or salutatorian. Of the 15,171 hopefuls who began the application process, only 1,193 — fewer than 8 percent of applicants — were accepted.

Thomas took the SAT four times and the physical test twice, making sure his scores stood out. In addition to sports and quiz bowl, he also went to the state level of the geography bee tournament and has served as president of the school's Beta Club, an organization focused on academic prowess and community service. And the work was worth it, Thomas said: His relatives fought in the Civil War, World War I, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and he always looked up to his dad and the people he met through him.

"Veterans are some of the best people I've ever met, and I've always felt a sense of brotherhood around that group," he said.