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Liberty sends another grad to academy

Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune

Liberty High School’s Skyler Hartley delivers the valedictorian address during LHS Commencement Ceremonies on May 31. Hartley will next attend the Air Force Academy.


Liberty High School is on the brink of starting another annual tradition with its graduates.

For the second year in a row, the school will have a graduate attend a military academy. Valedictorian Skyler Hartley is set to attend the Air Force Academy.

Hartley followed in the footsteps of 2021 graduate, Quaid Copher, who is attending the Naval Academy.

“Originally, I didn’t know this is what I wanted to do,” Hartley said. “I did get a little bit of information from Quaid because my Air Force Liason Officer was his. Originally, I wanted to apply to the Naval Academy. However, after starting the application process, my ALO said to apply to all of them. It doesn’t matter where you want to go. The military will put you where you’re meant to be. Air Force became my top right away because I found aviation fascinating. Becoming a pilot, especially after Top Gun, would be cool. I really liked the campus. It was clean, nice and pristine. Of course, the other academies had that. However, they are involved in nature because they are in the mountains. You can go snowboarding on the days you are allowed to leave campus.”

Hartley picked the Air Force because of her ambition to become a pilot.

“No matter what your major is, you have the option to go anywhere,” she said. “I could be a history major if I wanted and still go the pilot route. I am looking towards engineering. I come from a heavily-based engineering family. I wanted to be an architect, but I switched over to engineering and I really like civil. I still like designing and incorporating creativity in everything I do.”

Her father owns a third of Bedrock Engineering, which is based in Madera.

Hartley is also a multiple sport athlete, earning letters in volleyball and soccer, which helped her with the physical aspect of her application process.

“Obviously, being physically active is something you need at the academy,” she said. “Cadets have told me that everyone is an athlete. You have to have that level of fitness and be able to maintain it. Sports has definitely helped me with the physical aspect. It’s the team aspect that you incorporate in the military. You can’t do anything by yourself. You have to rely on your squadron or flight. You are all going through basic together. It’s not going to be the most fun.”

However, the toughest part about the application process was meeting with Congressman Jim Costa to earn his nomination.

“The physical aspect is pretty rough,” she said. “The application, in general, is designed to be difficult. The most nerve-wracking part was my nomination and congressman interview. When I got in, Congressman Costa called me personally and told me I got in. It was a surreal experience. It’s not everyday you get to speak to a Congressman.”

Hartley, who graduated with a 4.32 grade point average, applied to different universities in California and the University of Missouri.

“I got to visit because my grandpa passed away,” she said. “We went to his funeral and got to visit the campus because my cousin goes there. I really liked it there with the vibe. I still wanted to apply to the academies so I wanted to have a good back-up option. I got accepted to Mizzou and Fresno State. I also got an appointment to the Merchant Marine academy, which would have been my second choice.”

For Hartley, although getting the chance to head to the Air Force Academy is an accomplishment, getting through the pandemic was an even higher accomplishment.

“I think a lot of people’s mental health struggled with COVID,” she said. “I know I struggled with it at the beginning. Because I did have that time off before summer, I got to hang out with my friends a little. Even though it was restricted at the beginning, I got closer to my best friends. It was difficult when my junior year started because we had learning online. I’m a learning in-person type girl. It was something we had to do, so I did it. I would have liked to have had junior year in person, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.”

Hartley gave the valedictorian address during Liberty High School’s commencement ceremonies. Her address was passionate and emotional and included a few tears. She said that administrator Kandace Osborn and teacher Laura Markle helped her through the pandemic.

“I started tearing up because it was pretty personal to me. People I talked to said the same thing,” Hartley said. “A lot of teachers and administrators at Liberty really do care about their students. Even sophomore year, when we were in person and I was struggling, I could go to a teacher. They really helped their students.”

Hartley left for basic training earlier this week and will miss the close knit Madera Ranchos community.

“I’m definitely going to miss staff and friends that go to Liberty,” she said. “It’s different going to college. I really enjoy how small Liberty was because it’s a close community. Because it’s a tight-knit community, you can make better connections with people around you and make better connections with teachers, admins or coaches.”

Before she left, Hartley said her father had been emotional with her, trying to get as much time with her before she left.

“They are very emotional,” she said during an interview in early June. “My dad called me today and started crying. He said I wanted to tell you I miss you and feel bad I haven’t spent a lot of time with you. They have definitely cried a lot. I’m the oldest daughter and they haven’t experienced it before. They are excited for me and proud of my accomplishments.”

Hartley has a younger brother and hopes he kind of follows the path she has set, but also goes about it his own way.

“I feel like I have always strived for a sense of perfection, in general, because that’s how I am and my family is,” she said. “Obviously, I want to set a good example for my brother. I also want him to know he doesn’t have to be me. He can do what he can do and that’s just as good as what I’m doing.”

Hartley is set to leave the Madera Ranchos and have an experience not many of her classmates will get to have.

“I think it’s a combination of nervous, excited and anxious,” she said. “I am nervous to be away from home. When I first leave, it will be at boot camp. I won’t be able to talk to them for over a month. I’m excited at the same time. It’s a whole new experience and I’m able to do a whole bunch of things my classmates would never think about doing.”


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