How a Catholic Education in the Diocese of Brooklyn Led This Student to the Air Force Academy

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Currents News Staff

A shy kid from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn is about to start a new chapter – one he says he knew he was destined for. When Thomas Tong graduates from Xavier High School this year, he’ll be entering the Air Force Academy – a goal only 10 percent of applicants can say they’ve achieved.

“It’s surreal and it’s a big commitment but it was always my first choice and I always just wanted to be part of something greater than myself,” Thomas said.

But long before Thomas dreamed of being in an airman’s uniform, he was in this uniform at St. Mark’s Catholic Academy. Thomas isn’t Catholic, but he says his Catholic education transformed his view of the world.

“It gives you another view on life and how you want to bring yourself through,” Thomas said, “it gives you another perspective on life and you can use parts of Catholic teaching and influence to better yourself and the way you live and I feel like that’s what I’ve taken from it.”

Coming from St. Mark’s, Thomas took that foundation and soared at Xavier. He became a track star and rose through the ranks of the school’s intensive JROTC Program, surprising himself with what he could achieve and completely shocking his former teachers.

“Thomas was always a good student,” said his former teacher Mark Wilson. “He was insightful. He read well. He wrote well but I never took him as a military-type student so that took me by surprise. Just his demeanor, he was soft spoken, polite, quiet, not someone who was going to be barking out orders or doing any kind of military activities.” 

His middle school teacher is now the principal of St. Mark’s Academy. Mark says he couldn’t be more proud.

“He was always willing to help and lend a hand,” Mark said. “When he was here, he would collect the homework sheets every day so he was always a helper and that part of him has never changed. But he has matured, so there are parts of Thomas that will always be the same. Even this exceeded my expectations of what he was capable of so I’m really happy for him and his family.” 

Thomas said he’s hoping the family he found during his Catholic education will also be found once again in the Air Force.

“I felt like having that family environment really helps in learning and having someone to support you,” he said, “and having someone there knowing that you can go to someone and talk to them to relieve any stress. It just makes it easy to learn and do your best.” 

And his teachers say his story can serve as an example for all students.

“Anyone who wants to enter the military or service to their country has to have a background of helping others and treating people they way they want to be treated and defending others and being a righteous person,” Mark said, “and I think that’s the type of foundation that’s laid in a Catholic school for every student and to have a student like Thomas to take that and run with it and make that into a career is the ultimate goal for Catholic education.”

Thomas starts six weeks of bootcamp at the Air Force Academy on June 23.