Some seniors in high school have absolutely no idea what they’d like to do once they graduate. Jadah Cortez isn’t one of them.
The 18-year-old Morenci High School student set her sights on the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in seventh grade and hasn’t looked back.
She received her appointment to the 175-year-old school earlier this month.
The only thing that could stop the scholar from accepting the appointment is an acceptance letter from Princeton or Stanford.
“It’s honestly hard to turn down what the Naval Academy offers you. They pay for your whole tuition, your books, your housing, your food, everything and in the end it’s a guaranteed job. It’s one of the best public schools out there,” Jadah said.
Back in the seventh grade, Jadah’s father, Abraham, who spent four years in the Navy, told his oldest child about the Naval Academy and it’s summer Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program. She was immediately intrigued; she’d always been interested in the engineering field.
She spent that summer building rockets, experimenting in labs and experiencing the school’s wind tunnels. She went back the summer after ninth grade, visited again in February 2020 and participated in the virtual summer STEM program held last summer.
While art and swim camps are fun, she wanted something challenging, Jadah said.
“I’m glad I went there. The experience I had was a lot different than any other school I’ve been to and any other institutions,” Jadah said. “It’s just the environment there. Their expectations are way different and I love it. It’s more demanding, really demanding... In my few visits there I really learned how to live a self-discliplined life and how to be a self-starter. Just from those few visits I really wanted to have a chance to be a student there.”
Jadah, who is on track to be her class’s valedictorian with a 4.0 grade point average, hopes to go into the aerospace field. She’s interested in autonomy systems, believing them to be safer for pilots and better for the environment.
If she attends the Naval Academy, upon her graduation she’ll have a five-year committment, but she’s thinking of making the Navy a career.
Jadah gives a lot of credit to her parents, Darlene and Abraham, and her grandparents, Guadalupe and Filiberto Gallegos of El Paso, for her success.
“They’ve been really encouraging me from the beginning to go farther than what socieity is expecting from me,” she said.
She also is thankful for MHS graduate David Ogas. The son of MHS Dean of Students Frank Ogas, David Ogas will be graduating from the Naval Academy this year and has been mentoring Jadah for the past few years. She met him briefly at the academy during one of her visits and they marveled how two people from such a small community could wind up at the same celebrated school.
“I’ve been contacting him every so often asking for advice, asking for guidance on how should I apply, how should I approach the whole application process, how do I go prepare myself for interviews and for the physical tests and all of that,” Jadah said. “He was really helpful. He gave me a lot of insight into what I should put in my essays and what I should be talking about during my interviews.”
Frank Ogas describes Jadah as someone with an outstanding work ethic who is “extremely intelligent and dedicated.”
“She’s had this dream since middle school and she’s seen it through,” he said.
Jadah is already earning college credits through Morenci High School’s dual enrollment program with Eastern Arizona College. She’s taking calculus, American Literature, a keyboarding class and an investment class.
The teenager doesn’t spend all of her time with her nose in books, however. She plays the trumpet in the school band, plays basketball for the Wildcats and is on the school’s swim team. The National Honor Society student is also into caligraphy and is learning how to play guitar. She also spends time with her younger siblings, Zenayah, a MHS junior and seventh grader, Abraham.
MHS Principal Don Goodman taught Jadah chemistry last year.
“She’s pretty quiet and she gets the job done without a lot of fanfare,” Goodman said. “She’s not one to play on the phone. If she’s got a little bit of extra time, she’s studying for another class. She’s just very driven. She had a plan on how to get there and it worked. We’re very proud of her.”