WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.
When Michael Holder heads off to start his college career this fall, he will continue a family tradition of service that goes back three generations.
The Williamsburg resident will report to the U.S. Naval Academy as a midshipmen in the service academy’s class of 2019, joining his grandfather, father and brother as service members.
Those who attend the Naval Academy, popularly known as Annapolis for its location in the Maryland capital, sign up for four years of training as naval officers, followed by four years of active duty service in the Navy.
For Holder, it will also be the beginning of a career he has dreamed of having for as long as he can remember.
Holder was born into a military family in Newport News. His father retired from the Army after 20 years, and the family relocated to Williamsburg when Holder was young.
He began attending Walsingham Academy for pre-school, and continued his education there through high school. Holder graduated from the school last week, along with 32 other seniors.
While at Walsingham, Holder developed a reputation as a well-rounded student, starting on several varsity athletic teams, singing in the school’s madrigal choir and joining the Key Club service organization.
His achievements earned him the honor of Walsingham scholar-athlete of the year during this year’s graduation ceremony.
The club he loved the most at Walsingham was the swim team. Holder was a member of the varsity team beginning in his eighth grade year, and continuing on through high school. As a junior, he captured two bronze medals in the 200 free and 500 free at a state invitational at George Mason University.
Holder said he considered swimming at the collegiate level, but there was a problem — it would complicate his path to the armed services.
“Swimming, and the fact that I wanted to swim in college, was always pushing me to look at some of the smaller Division III schools which were not the Naval Academy,” he said.
He saw two paths for becoming a naval officer: ROTC or attending a service academy. After some research, Holder decided he likely would not make to cut for a Division I team, and began looking at schools in lower athletic tiers, like the Division III Coast Guard Academy.
“I was always trying to swim in college, that was always the goal,” Holder said. “By senior year, once I realized I wanted to go to the Naval Academy, I [realized I] really couldn’t swim for the Naval Academy, a D-I team that’s gotten really fast over the years.”
In the summer before his senior year at Walsingham, Holder made a decision. He loved swimming, but his true calling was still service to his country. Holder decided to forego collegiate swimming and focus on getting into one of the service academies.
“I realized, in four years, I won’t be continuing my swimming career, anyway,” Holder said. “Why not choose a school that more fits me for what I want to do in life than what I want to do in college?”
Holder chose to pursue the Naval Academy, given its wide range of post-graduate opportunities in the service, and began the long and complex application process.
In addition to the standard college application materials, like transcripts, letters of recommendations from teachers and essays, Holder had to obtain a recommendation from a loftier position — a member of Congress or the president.
Acquiring those recommendations required their own applications, essays and interviews, and Holder had to submit one for each potential recommender: U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1), U.S. senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and President Barack Obama.
After months of working on his application and receiving a recommendation from the president, Holder did not have to wait long for an admission decision. In October, he received notification he had been accepted to the Naval Academy.
Holder said his parents were supportive throughout the Naval Academy’s application process — even his Army veteran father.
“He was just glad that we chose to serve,” Holder said. “Ultimately, everybody’s on the same team.”
Holder also said he is happy to join his brother Kevin, who is a junior at the Naval Academy, but he is also excited to begin on his path toward becoming an officer in the Navy.
“I want to be able to look back when I’m older and know that I did something good for other people,” Holder said.