North Summit student’s dream takes flight
Corben Ruf is the son of a man who had a dream.
His father had always wanted to go to school at the prestigious Air Force Academy. But when he finally had the chance, life got in the way. Though he chose not to attend, he passed the dream onto his son. Now Ruf has a chance to fulfill it.
Ruf was recently nominated by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop to attend the Air Force Academy. He is one of just a handful of Utah students to make it this far in the arduous application process for the school, which accepts only those it considers to be the best and the brightest.
"Going to the academy has always kind of been his dream," Ruf said of his father. "And now it’s become my own thing. I think it’s really cool. And he’s pretty excited about it. He doesn’t want me going to any other colleges. It’s something he wants me to do."
Ruf, a senior at North Summit High School, has known he wanted to attend the academy since seventh grade, when he and his father toured the campus. Seeing Cadet Chapel, set against Colorado’s famed snowcapped peaks, for the first time took Ruf’s breath away. Walking among the memorials and the airplanes dotting campus seemed surreal.
"I knew right then, ‘This is what I want to do,’" he said. "I don’t know how to explain it. It was just cool."
The years of waiting and hoping are nearing an end. After receiving Lee and Bishop’s endorsements — academy applicants must be nominated by a congressman, a grueling process that in Ruf’s case included high-pressure interviews with their staffs — he will find out if he made the cut in March.
Either way, it will be a life-changing moment. If he is accepted, he’ll be embarking on the largest commitment of his life. Cadets complete a four-year degree, then spend five years in active duty. After that, they have the choice to leave the service or pursue a 20-year commitment for full retirement benefits.
Ruf admits it’s a lot for an 18-year-old to take in. He doesn’t yet know whether he wants a lifetime in the service, and he’s glad he will have a few years to figure it out.
"I guess it would depend on what I was doing," he said about whether he would plan to stay on after completing his initial service requirement. "I don’t know, because 20 years is a long time. But if it was something that I enjoy, I’d definitely think about staying."
Regardless of how long he chooses to stay in the Air Force, Ruf is aware of the gravity of the commitment he’d be making. While many of his high school friends would jet off soon after graduation for missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and return home to start families, that part of his life would be delayed.
But for Ruf, there’s no question: The positives outweigh the many challenges life at the academy would bring.
"It’s intimidating to think how big of a commitment this is," he said. "It’s going to be hard, but in the end it’s going to be worth it. I mean, your schooling is free and I’ll have a job when I graduate. It sets you up well for the rest of your life. You just have a couple of hard years."
Though readying for such a commitment hasn’t always been easy, he’s had plenty of support. His family has been behind him the whole way. Having his friends there, too, has been reassuring.
"Some of them don’t realize what it’s all about and how big of a commitment it is, but the ones who do understand think it’s really cool," Ruf said. "It’s important to have that support. They have their stuff they want to do and I have mine, and we’re all very supportive of each other."
Should the academy not accept him, Ruf will attend Utah State University and study engineering. It’s an alluring backup plan, he said — one that still affords him a bright future. But until he finds out which path his life will take, there’s just one thing to do. And this step may be the hardest of all.
"I just wait," he said. "I’ve submitted everything they want and now I just wait."