Steamboat Springs In the spring, graduating Steamboat Springs High School senior Maddie Ruppel had a thick envelope waiting for her in the mailbox when she returned home from a soccer game.
The house was empty, but the heavy piece of mail with the United States Military Academy at West Point letterhead inscribed on it already told her the news.
She didn’t open it, though. She phoned her parents and little brother with a simple message.
“Get home. Now.”
There she sat in the family’s kitchen, with her brother capturing the whole thing on video — Ruppel opening her acceptance to West Point on a full-ride scholarship, her dream coming true.
It was actually the final acceptance letter Ruppel had gotten from a United States military academy, but the most coveted by far. It was also the third acceptance she had gotten in a span of just one week, after months checking the mail two, sometimes three times each day, wondering if the letters ever would come.
Despite living in a military household with a father who served in the Navy for 23 years, Ruppel said she hadn’t given life after high school much thought until, well, when high school started.
“I really liked the military culture and the way of life we had growing up,” she said. “I didn’t mind that aspect. I think I liked the challenge, so I saw that as a good way to go. I didn’t think about West Point really until my senior year when I visited. It blew me away with its tradition.”
That tradition is imprinted proudly on the campus’s facades — a campus that looks like the real-life version of Hogwarts overlooking the Hudson River, she said. Duty, honor, country: Duty is what we do, honor is how we do it and country is why we do it, the motto states.
Her scholarship is worth more than $200,000 throughout her four years of study. After graduation in 2018, she will be obligated to serve five years active duty and then three years in the reserve.
Starting Wednesday, Ruppel will begin basic training, commonly known as the Beast Barracks. Most of the academy’s training comes during the summer, she said, with everyone taking their core engineering, math and sciences classes toward their Bachelor of Science degrees. Ruppel said she hopes to enlist in West Point’s art, philosophy and literature option and plans to take on a foreign language component, as well.
It’s been a roller-coaster three weeks for the teenager, having left Steamboat just a week after graduation and spending the remainder with family outside of town. She has had her moments of clarity — Am I really doing this? — here and there since school let out but said her support system is unparalleled.
“It’s been really hard to say goodbye,” Ruppel said. “I left Steamboat about a week after graduation. That whole week I spent with friends and people there. It’s pretty incredible. The support the community has shown me is overwhelming. It’s a good feeling to know as I go off, they’re rooting for me back home.”
She received a roaring standing ovation at the high school’s scholarship night June 4, when she officially accepted her admission to West Point. Strangers have offered their congratulations since then. Even an unknown emailer, a West Point alum, offered to buy her dinner and talk about the next step.
The nerves are settling in, she admitted. But in militaristic fashion, Ruppel is determined to shelve the goosebumps and get to work with the next four years ahead of her.
“It’s funny. Whenever I do get a chance to think about it and realize it’s this week, a lot of feelings occur,” Ruppel said. “I’m nervous, definitely scared a little, but very excited and grateful. I’m to the point, though, that it’s like, bring it on. It's game time.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll