Petal grads receive West Point, USAF appointments

By BETH BUNCH,

When two Petal High School graduates head off to the next phase of life in the fall, they won’t be known as freshmen or sophomores.

These young men are going to be hearing quite different monikers – fourth class/doolie/smack or plebe.

2018 PHS graduate William Nicholas Boone has received an appointment to West Point Military Academy in West Point, New York, while Thomas Budraitis, a 2019 PHS graduate, will head off into the “wild blue yonder’ at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Congressman Steven Palazzo recently announced 10 appointments for graduates in south Mississippi.

"I am incredibly proud to see that south Mississippi will be well represented by these bright young students who exemplify leadership,” Palazzo said. “It is my privilege to have nominated all of these soon-to-be service members. I look forward to following their journeys at some of our nation's best education institutions. I wish them a future of great success as they learn and grow at our service academies."

Both young men come from families with military backgrounds.

For Budraitis, his father, Stan, was an Army aviator and is now a brigadier general in the Mississippi Army National Guard, “which has influenced me a lot,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to join the military since I can remember, but I started becoming interested in the Academy and Air Force around 6th grade.”

He is also the son of DeSha Budraitis and has no siblings. 

Boone’s father, John Daniel Boone, is currently on active duty as a captain in the U.S. Navy. Both of his grandfathers served, one in the Marines and the other in the Navy. Boone’s mom is Heather Ellyn Boone and he has one brother, Matthew Stanley Boone.

“I personally think the time spent around not only my father, but both my grandfathers, helped me to garner a great appreciation for the armed forces and helped me to understand the importance of duty to one’s country,” Boone said.

“For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to spend my life as a public servant to my community in one way or another. At times as a child, I imagined a life as a military member and even went so far as to tell my family that I wanted nothing more than to join the military. However, as I got older, I began to give more credence to the idea of becoming a lawyer and even attended college intending to pursue law school.”

He said it wasn’t until halfway through his freshman year of college that he realized that while attending college and living a civilian life was worthwhile, it didn’t give him the sense that he was giving everything he had to offer to his country, family, and friends.

“The next day I began my application to West Point,” he said.

While Budraitis participated in the Army JROTC program at PHS all four years and “did almost every team or event they offered,” Boone did not.

As far as making the military a career, Budraitis hasn’t quite made up his mind.

“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “I love history, but there are a lot of opportunities to explore at the academy.”

He is interested in a career as an Air Force pilot.

Boone said he’s always been an avid history buff, as well as someone who is interested in politics, government, and language. “I hope to either major in history or political science,” he said.

His commitment to the military will be for as long as he feels like he has something to offer his country.

Both young men feel the education they received at PHS has prepared them for the challenges ahead.

“From AP classes taught by great teachers to all the extracurricular activities offered, as well as the emphasis on doing good on the ACT, Petal High was amazing for helping me out,” said Budraitis, who participated in Beta Club, National Honor Society, French Club, Vox Populi Club, Debate and Mu Alpha Theta.

“The people I have met and the teachers who taught me while at Petal have helped to shape me into a more well-rounded person than I could have ever asked for,” Boone said.

At PHS, he was a member of the football team, National Honor Society, as well as a member of the Speech and Debate team.

Budraitis knows there will be challenges ahead, especially the freedom to make a lot of choices on a daily basis – from making his own daily routine to basic choices like regular clothing or driving a car, which won’t be allowed at USAFA until he’s an upperclassman.

Boone believes the thing he’ll miss the most about being back home "will be the same things I have always missed when I have moved – the people."

"I have moved many times and been to many places so being in a new environment almost feels like a natural thing for me at this point,” he said. “However, leaving all the amazing people I have gotten to know during the past few years will be the most difficult part of transitioning to West Point.”