Graduating class named most academic in MMA’s history

By Ryan Cornell

For the first time in the 115-year history of Massanutten Military Academy, a graduating class has earned a 100 percent acceptance rate to four-year universities.

This year’s graduating class comprises 26 cadets and has been awarded about $940,000 in scholarships, according to Jake Layman, director of marketing at the military academy.

Layman credited the historic feat to a number of factors, including the school’s implementation of a Project Lead the Way STEM program, its dual enrollment program with Lord Fairfax Community College and a “hyperactive” college counselor who joined the faculty this year.

“She’s [counselor BettyJane Meni] been going around to all of our cadets, requiring them to apply to six schools, apply to reach schools and is really into SAT and ACT prep,” he said. “She makes them rewrite and rewrite their essays and hounds them about getting their recommendations.

“Traditionally, military schools have not been known for academic excellence, and Massanutten was one of them,” he added. “In the past couple years, we’ve really been pushing to get our act together.”

The valedictorian and battalion commander of the class, Cadet Col. Monica Valcourt, of McLean, is also president of the school’s National Honor Society and Interact club.

She has chosen to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall.

Salutatorian Gengwei Chen of Guizhou, China, has chosen to attend the University of Miami.

Monica and Gengwei will give graduation speeches before this year’s featured commencement speaker, Gen. John Douglass.

Douglass, a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, has served as a senior staff member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services; assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition; and as deputy U.S. military representative to the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

According to an MMA news release, the general was attacked by terrorists on three separate occasions while serving at the NATO headquarters.

Douglass was also a candidate to represent Virginia’s 5th Congressional District in 2012 and currently owns and manages Maison du Bois VIneyard.

Layman hinted that the topic of Douglass’ address will revolve around the impact of technology and how it’s changed the world.

“The reason we called him up, our whole driving force right now is STEM,” said Layman, noting that Douglass is “well-renowned in military circles for engineering.”

“We’re bearing down, tearing up classrooms to put in a new computer lab, adding a 3D printer, a next-generation SmartBoard. We’re really trying to push this science-technology theme at our school,” Layman said.

According to Layman, the 18-member faculty at the academy combined has 12 master’s degrees and three doctoral degrees.

The commencement ceremony is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Harrison Courtyard.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com