Kelly: Papio-La Vista grad wouldn't take military academies' no for an answer -
Published Friday, June 21, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:52 am
Kelly: Papio-La Vista grad wouldn't take military academies' no for an answer

During his junior year in high school, Keegan Kush applied to attend six-day summer programs at military academies — and received rejection letters from the Navy, Army and Air Force.

The letters questioned his “academic competitiveness.”

Oh, he is competitive, and he is a good student. Those rejection letters became Keegan's inspiration.

“I put 'em up in my room,” he said. “They really fueled my desire to prove them wrong. I'm not the smartest guy by any means, or the most athletic, but I feel like I work the hardest.”

A year later, he received appointments and was accepted for admission at all the military academies — not for a weeklong visit but for four-year scholarships, courtesy of taxpayers.

He reports at 7 a.m. next Thursday to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

“I'm excited and a little nervous,” he said. “Life will change a lot, and it's time to grow up. But I'm ready for it, I'm prepared.”

Upon arrival, he will get his head shaved, don a uniform, learn to salute, swear an oath of allegiance, say a brief goodbye to his parents and begin the seven-week “Plebe Summer,” followed by his plebe (freshman) year,

As the Navy says, there is no gentle easing into military routine. The “frantic, exhausting pace” this summer is designed to “turn civilians into midshipmen.”

For Keegan, getting this far wasn't easy. A chronic cough through childhood and a broken vertebra in his back from freshman football at Papillion-La Vista High School — which required him to wear a brace for six months — raised questions on his applications.

So did his score of 22 the first time he took the ACT, which apparently is what led to his rejection letters from academies for their high school programs, known as “summer seminars.”

But through study, practice tests and retaking the exam, he eventually scored an impressive 31.

And he graduated fourth in a class of 360 at Papillion-La Vista, where he also served as captain of the football and wrestling teams and president of the National Honor Society.

His college counselor, Ann Herbener, said she was puzzled about his first ACT score and never doubted Keegan.

“In my 28 years as a teacher and counselor,” she said, “he is one of the most focused students I have ever worked with — and yet still so likable. All of the kids and teachers liked and respected him.”

He took advanced-placement courses, she said, and was inquisitive in class. He took part in many school activities, but not merely to build a résumé. “He's always trying to improve himself.”

Getting into a military academy, she said, is as difficult as being accepted at an Ivy League school. The Naval Academy, for example, received 19,000 applications for its 1,100 spots.

It's a three-step process. A student needs acceptance from an academy, an appointment by a congressman or U.S. senator and medical clearance.

Though turned down for six-day summer programs by the Army, Navy and Air Force academies, Keegan was accepted by the Coast Guard. He attended its grueling seminar in Connecticut and returned home for his senior year.

At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, he was an undersized linebacker in Class A football but finished second in the state in tackles.

As a wrestler, he qualified for the state tournament as a junior but came up short as a senior. Though it was a big disappointment, he kept attending practices and encouraging teammates going to state.

His parents are Kevin and Lynne Kush; he is the longtime Boys Town football coach, and she is a literacy teacher.

At 8 years old, his dad recalled, Keegan made his bed on his own and always kept his room in order. He would triple-check his book bag before heading to school.

When he was 9, brother Christian, then 7, forgot his mittens. Keegan said, “That's OK, I have a spare set in my bag.”

Kevin's nickname for Keegan is “Structure.”

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

“He's never been a partier, and he's mature beyond his years,” Dad said. “When you visit these academies, the kids who go there are all grinders and overachievers. They've all got the right stuff. That's encouraging to me. I think this country will be in pretty good hands.”

Once he reports to Annapolis, Keegan is allowed only three phone calls all summer. He won't return home until Christmas.

He would have been honored to attend any of the military academies, he said, but chose the Navy because of its variety of options, such as aviation, submarines, ship command, the Marines and — his current interest — the SEAL program.

He has been swimming, running and lifting, and his weight is closer to 170. He is ready to go.

But before reporting Thursday to the campus on Chesapeake Bay, he and his family will leave Omaha on Sunday for a place he has never visited — Washington, D.C.

He wants to tour the Capitol and all the monuments, museums and other sites, and he especially wants to visit Arlington National Cemetery.

“I'll get a great education at the Naval Academy,” he said, “but the main reason I want to go is to serve my country. That's No. 1.”

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Threat found in Millard West bathroom deemed 'not credible'
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
< >
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »