Lakeridge senior lands place at military academy

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lakeridge High School senior Alexander Schaffer has gained admittance into the U.S. Air Force Academy.One local student’s life seems almost as unbelievable as a story by former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair — but Alexander Schaffer is the genuine article.

Schaffer not only earned a 4.2 weighted GPA last year at Lakeridge High School, he did it while taking AP physics and AP chemistry, competing on the varsity water polo and swim teams and performing as the principal percussionist and timpanist at the Portland Youth Philharmonic, which honored him with the Jacques Gershkovitch Award, a scholarship for orchestra tuition.

This year, Schaffer is diving into AP Calculus, continuing as a principal with PYP, participating in wind ensemble and stage band, and this student also is a teacher, offering regular private music lessons and guiding youngsters in vacation Bible school during the summer. Plus, he served as the captain on the varsity water polo and varsity swim teams. Schaffer was named Most Valuable Player in water polo and made the first team all-league in the Pacific conference.

“The thing I like most about him is his work ethic and leadership skills, but also his ability to produce on our offense,” said Kevin Moon, head coach of the water polo team. “He was our MVP for a number of reasons but mostly because he was our biggest weapon on offense. I would be very happy to have this young man serving and defending our country ... in the U.S. Air Force Academy.”

Oh yeah, and Schaffer’s among the about 10 percent of applicants who were admitted to the U.S. Air Force Academy, and he applied to no other school after gaining admittance. Other family members, his grandfathers and maternal grandmother, served in the military, but his inspiration to join sprang from an interest in physical exertion, long-term career planning, the military environment, special opportunities and attending a tuition-free school. Students pay through military service.

“I love the athleticism it requires,” said Schaffer, who lives near Westridge Elementary School. “If there wasn’t someone forcing me to work out, it’d be hard for me to do it on my own. I like the lifestyle of military personnel: the structure, the order. ...I like to be pushed to my limits to become a better person.”

Wearing a uniform appeals to him, not having to trouble himself with choosing the right outfit to fit in with peers.

He aims to earn a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, serve five years of active duty, obtain a master’s in aeronautical engineering and put in another two years of active duty.

“I like how the academy has planned out the next 13 years in my life, having a career plan,” Schaffer said.

While visiting the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based academy last summer, he noticed a beautiful chapel on campus and considered it a good venue for his future wedding. He hasn’t found the girl — he’s a little young having just turned 18 last month — but he plans to be a husband and father.

“I just want to be able to have a job, have an education and support a family because that’s what my parents did, and I enjoy the status they are at: It looks comfortable,” he said. “I hope someday to have kids of my own.”

The Air Force Academy provides opportunities most schools don’t: hang-gliding, combat, survival and sky diving training, Schaffer said. He said such training could prove useful if a difficult situation should occur.

The discipline at the core of the academy intrigues him as well.

“The whole idea of basic training, being broken down and built up, appeals to me,” he said.

Attending a tuition-free institution of higher education seems to him a wise move, and, he’s the oldest of five siblings — he’s got a sophomore brother, eighth-grader brother, sixth-grader sister and 3-year-old brother. So, no college tuition payments benefits his whole family.

“Alexander has worked extremely hard to achieve this ambitious goal, and it is due entirely to his perseverance and dedication,” said his father, Matt Schaffer, who has worked at NASA and the Pentagon supporting the Air Force as an information technology contractor. “I am not only very excited for the future he has secured for himself, but also for his selfless commitment to this country.”

Matt Schaffer said his son, nickname Smiley, performs practical jokes, ripostes with good-natured bantering and often is “the life of the party.”

“They call him Smiley for a reason,” said his mother, Kathy Zettl-Schaffer, a STEM education advocate and stay-at-home mom. “He’s a very happy guy, always striving to do better and always offering help to those around him.”

Alexander Schaffer leaves for basic training on June 26, three weeks after his Lakeridge High graduation.

Lake Oswego standouts

Another local student, Lake Oswego High School senior Grant Van Hoomissen also earned a place in the U.S. Air Force Academy. He was featured in the April 17 Review.

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