MONTICELLO — As she enters the final few days of her high school career at Monticello, Kendyl McFarland gets around the hallways of the school in sandy-colored boots, extending halfway up her lower leg.
It's not the most fashion-forward look, but excuse McFarland if she's not interested in appearing on your "who wore it best" list.
Those boots will soon be part of her daily attire and were issued to her by the U.S. Military Academy, where this summer she and Monticello classmate Tim Rudolph will report to West Point to begin basic training in preparation for their freshman years at the prestigious service academy.
"She's been wearing those around for a few weeks now to get her feet used to them," Monticello Principal Tip Reedy said.
West Point will admit approximately 1,200 students to be part of its incoming freshman class, and two of them happen to be from Monticello, a high school of fewer than 500 with a 2017 graduating class of 107 in East Central Illinois.
And they're following in the footsteps of 2016 Monticello grad Will Espenschied, a freshman at West Point.
"Since we're such a small school, that's pretty cool," Rudolph said.
Each year, Monticello sends dozens of students to worthy local schools such as Illinois State, Parkland and Illinois. But there's a little something extra special for the folks inside that building to know it's been serving as a feeder school of sorts to West Point, in addition to the local favorites.
"You can't put into words how proud I am of the kids," Reedy said. "It's about opportunity, and our people do a great job of creating opportunities for our kids."
For McFarland and Rudolph, completing the application for West Point was an accomplishment in its own right. In addition to the traditional application, students wishing to attend the service academies must pass a physical assessment and also secure a letter of recommendation from a representative of Congress (in this case, U.S. Rep Rodney Davis) or the vice president.
"It was all pretty intense," McFarland said.
Attending West Point was never on the radar of McFarland until she was contacted by track and field coach Mike Smith. McFarland, who competes in high jump, pole vault and the 400 meters, was recruited to be a part of Army's track and field program.
"When I started looking into it, it seemed like it would work," she said.
McFarland also considered Dartmouth, the University of Chicago and Washington University.
Rudolph, a history buff, has always been aware of West Point and the tradition behind the institution. But he didn't consider it as a college option until his internship last summer with U.S. Rep. John Shimkus.
Rudolph has done his homework on the place, too, rattling off names of some of the more prominent West Point grads with relative ease.
"(Presidents Dwight) Eisenhower, (Ulysses S.) Grant, (generals Douglas) MacArthur, (George) Patton and even current-day people like (former CIA director David) Petraeus and (Gen. Stanley) McChrystal, so many people have gone there," Rudolph said. "There's just kind of something to it."
Rudolph will study history and political science at West Point. "I've always had an interest in politics, and history is my strong suit," he said. But he's not sure if a career in politics is in the cards for his future.
"After you graduate, you serve five years of active duty and you can make a career out of it if you want to. I definitely want to be an Army officer," he said. "Who knows what I'll want 20 years down the road, but (politics) is definitely something that interests me."
McFarland wants to study medicine with an eye on attending medical school immediately after graduation.
"I want to do that before I serve. That way, I can act as a trauma surgeon in the military," she said.
McFarland and Rudolph will be among those honored Monday as Monticello fetes the Class of 2017 during its senior honors night. Davis is expected to be on hand to officially present the appointments.
"They're both highly involved in absolutely everything, burning the candle at both ends with everything on their plate," Reedy said of the seniors. "But they still maintain high academic standing. I'm super proud of them, as I am all our kids."
A few good grads
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis is expected to be on hand Monday night at Monticello High School to present Kendyl McFarland and Tim Rudolph with their appointments to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It’s become an annual tradition for the congressman, who sponsored seven seniors at area high schools for coveted spots at a service academy. Previously chosen the past three years:
Will Espenschied, Monticello (Army)
Audrey Duncan, Monticello (Navy)
Isaac Kasten, Champaign Central (Air Force)
Ben Mertens, Champaign Central (Navy)
Joel Thompson, Champaign Central (Army)
Cameron Deedrich, St. Thomas More (Navy)
Ian Gidcomb, Champaign Central (Army)