High School graduation: Hockinson Hawk prepares to set sail for Naval Academy

Joseph Brennan achieves longtime goal with his appointment to Annapolis

BRUSH PRAIRIE — He was at home on a Friday afternoon, just hours from playing a football game for the Hockinson Hawks when he received the email last October.

Hockinson High School graduating senior Joseph Brennan will join older brother Tommy at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Joseph Brennan will graduate from Hockinson High School on Thursday, then prepare for his next challenge at the U.S. Naval Academy. Photo by Paul Valencia

Confirmed.

Joseph Brennan had made it.

“I just remember thinking, ‘There’s no way this is happening.’ It was surreal,” Brennan said.

At that stage during his senior year, he was preparing his applications for Notre Dame, for the University of Washington, for ROTC.

“All of a sudden, I didn’t need to anymore,” he said.

His parents, Thomas and Leilani, were out of town that day, but he had to tell them the news. First, though, he had to come up with a way to break it to them. He called his father.

This is too stressful, he told his dad. The academic pressures were getting to him. So, too, was the uncertainty of his future. He informed his dad that he was not going to apply to college anymore.

Joseph heard his dad start to panic a bit on the other end of the connection.

Then Joseph let his dad off the hook.

“Dad, I don’t need to apply anymore. I got into the Naval Academy,” Joseph said.

His father started freaking out.

“It was one of the best moments of my life,” Joseph said.

He would tell no one else that day, but his older brother Tommy, who will be a senior at the academy this fall, heard the news and posted it on social media. At the football game that night, Joseph received congratulations from several people.

“It was crazy,” he said.

That email changed his life.

Hockinson High School graduating senior Joseph Brennan will join older brother Tommy at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Joseph Brennan was part of two state championships with Hockinson football. He said the school and the football program has made him a better young man as he prepares for life at the U.S. Naval Academy. Photo by Mike Schultz

“Acceptance of this appointment will be your first step on a challenging voyage of discovery that will afford you a world-class four-year degree and commission as an officer and leader in the United States Navy or Marine Corp,” the email stated.

Joseph Brennan is ready.

He will walk during Hockinson’s graduation ceremony Thursday night, and then he will be preparing for his new life in Annapolis.

In fact, he has been ready for many, many years. Brennan first visited the academy long before his brother earned his appointment. He loves the location, so close to the nation’s capital, so close to Baltimore, a few hours from New York City. He loves the water, too.

As he got older, he also realized how much the academy reminds him of another special institution: Hockinson football.

“I love the people, the sense of community, the sense of brotherhood,” Brennan said. “Everyone is on your side. Kind of like Hockinson football. Everyone will fight for you and give it their all.”

The first year — the plebe year — is the toughest. Upperclassmen, such as his brother, can make a plebe do push-ups or sit-ups at just about any time. They can ask a question to the plebe. Get it wrong, and the plebe is in for it.

“They are supposed to beat you down and build you up as a team,” Brennan said. “You are building an everlasting bond.”

Fortunately for him, his older brother has told him he won’t make it too difficult.

“He’s going to help guide me along freshman year,” Joseph said. “If I ever need him, he’ll always be there for me. It’s going to be nice to have somebody I know there, especially for the hardest year.”

Hockinson has helped prepare Brennan for this next step in his life. He was part of the National Honor Society, the Key Club, and the Future Business Leaders of America, among other things.

“Hockinson really puts an emphasis on getting kids involved in the community and giving back to the community,” Brennan said. “They give a lot of opportunities for kids to do something.”

He specifically wanted to thank teachers Elizabeth Fortier, Heidi Morris, Berit Kretz, and Angela Redinger.

“They were very helpful, very influential in helping me get to the Naval Academy,” he said.

Then, of course, the football program.

“It taught me how to be a better young man,” Brennan said. “Integrity. Brotherhood. It taught me everything I need to know in life.”

Hockinson coach Rick Steele provides a weekly “Man Class” for the football team, to teach about making the right choices in life.

“A special thank you to him,” Brennan said.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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