Berwick High School graduate McKenzie Beasley will report to the United States Military Academy on July 2, the first St. Mary Parish high school graduate to go to the military academy since Andrew Folse, a 2003 graduate of Morgan City High School.
“It is kind of a large decision,” Beasley said, “because I could have done ROTC, I could have enlisted, but I decided to go to the academy. No one in my family has ever done it, and a lot of people didn’t think I could.”
Beasley said that his father Mark Beasley, a career Coast Guardsman, wanted him to go to the Coast Guard Academy, but his stepmother encouraged him to pursue the Army’s service academy instead. He said, with a laugh, that he was less attracted to the Navy and the Coast Guard because “I don’t like ships.”
“My father has 17½ years of sea time, and that’s a lot of time away,” he said. He began West Point’s online application process in February 2011.
Beasley said others doubted his ability to be admitted to the U.S. Military Academy.
“Maybe I’m not intelligent enough,” he said. “I’m fairly intelligent, but I’m not the most intelligent.”
Kenny Williams was Beasley’s American and world history teacher, homeroom teacher for four years and assistant football coach. Williams also served six years in the Louisiana Army National Guard and said that that experience has helped him to discuss military matters with Beasley, who, Williams said, seems to already know plenty about the topic, including a research paper he did on Gen. Douglass MacArthur.
“He contributes to the point where we almost debate, like with ammunition sizes,” Williams said.
“It’s fun. Sometimes, other kids are laughing a little bit, but his interest in the military part of history is very high, one of the most knowledgeable kids I’ve taught when it comes to the military end of it,” Williams said.
“When he made that comment earlier about not being that smart, I think that he’s comparing himself to other West Point students. These guys are high 20s early 30s ACT score types,” Williams said. “Overall, he’s a bright kid.”
Beasley confirmed this.
“West Point’s average ACT is 29. Mine is 24,” he said.
“I’ve thought I’ve tried hard in school, but I honestly have not tried as hard as I can, and I believe that West Point will challenge me more than anything, more than I have ever done in my life,” Beasley said.
BHS assistant principal Doug Norris agreed, and told Beasley such in a group interview at the school.
“You have a tough, tough, tough, road ahead from the limited knowledge I have about West Point,” Norris said.
“It’s not going to be a walk in the park. I’m sure you already know that. I wish you the best of luck. I’m proud of you, and I think a lot of people are proud of you,” he said.
Jennifer Loupe, Beasley’s ninth-grade physical science and junior chemistry teacher, agreed.
“I’m so proud. I’m so very proud of him for all that he’s done,” Loupe said. “He doesn’t give himself a lot of credit.”
Beasley, however, gives credit to Loupe for his interest in the subject matter that she taught him.
“I didn’t really like science before, but she kind of got me into it,” Beasley said.
He hopes to learn electrical engineering at West Point and said that he is attracted to the problem-solving aspect of engineering.
Noelle Lowrimore, who taught Beasley math in his last three years at BHS, said that Beasley is self-disciplined and has attention to detail.
“Mackenzie works very hard. He strives to get everything correct,” she said.
“I can ditto all that,” Loupe added. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll make it. I’ve never seen him slack off,” she said.
“I respect what he’s doing. There are not a lot of children his age going in the military.”
Physics teacher Dennis McDill said that Beasley “brings strong questions and discussions to the class,” causing some laughter from other teachers.
“He’ll question you,” Lowrimore said as she nodded her head up-and-down.
Loupe agreed with Lowrimore’s sentiment.
“Sometimes you just want to say, ‘just be quiet, McKenzie,’ but they are great questions,” Loupe said.
Beasley smiled at Loupe’s statement and opened up his arms.
“You have to ask questions before you get answers,” he said.
Beasley gave some of his other teachers credit for his success too.
“Coach Williams has basically taught me to be myself,” he said. “In sports, he’s taught me to always do my best and work as hard as possible. In history class, he’s taught me a good work ethic, like studying.”
“Mrs. Burkowski, she’s helped me in English, where I’ve struggled. Mrs. Skelton, likewise.”
It was late 2010 when now-Congressman Jeff Landry was first running for the House seat and came to speak at BHS that Williams introduced Beasley to Landry. A congressional sponsor is required for all service academy nominees.
“Each congressman has five slots per academy, and I was the only person he nominated for one of his slots,” Beasley said. “That’s the first and only time I’ve met him.”
Perhaps some of the low expectations that Beasley said some have of him are due to he and his sister Marki Beasley, a 2009 BHS graduate, being first-generation college students. Norris said that overcoming those low expectations will be inspirational to others in the area.
“McKenzie’s going to be a role model for future students in this area to see that somebody from this area can go to West Point and make it at West Point,” he said, and then turning to Beasley, said, “and kids will see your name in the paper and see your picture in the paper, and they will see that somebody from Berwick, Louisiana, from Berwick High School, can go to West Point and make it. That itself is an influence on young children, children you don’t even know,” Norris said.
“They’ll think ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’ That right there will be a positive role model for young children.”