The letter from Annapolis arrived in the mail a few weeks ago while Sara Tumbas was at school.
Her dad Pete couldn't stand the suspense, so he opened it.
"He can't help it," Sara said.
Moments later, mom Kim called Chesterton High School to have Sara come down to the main office.
"I started crying," Sara said.
Make no mistake, the tears were those of joy. The high school senior, a soccer standout who ranks fourth in her class with a grade point average of 4.71, had received her Letter of Assurance from the U.S. Naval Academy. How special is it? From a list of about 20,000 applicants, only 150 each year get such a guarantee.
"I was so surprised, I was speechless," Tumbas said. "It's been such a long process. It's such a relief. Some don't find out until March. There's such a deeper meaning, I'm having a hard time putting it into words, how it makes me feel."
Tumbas could go to any school she wants. Vanderbilt, Duke and Indiana were on her short list, with long-term thoughts on medical school. She loved Vanderbilt, but the academies extend an invitation, there is no either-or.
"I've always liked military history. My dad and I have watched the Army-Navy game as long as I can remember," Tumbas said. "When I went to (soccer) camp there, I knew it was where I wanted to be. It just felt right. When you're at Annapolis and you see everyone walking around in uniforms, you feel like you're a part of something bigger than yourself. You have an opportunity to do something greater. There's no parallel to any other institution."
The fact there Tumbas has landed where she is comes as no coincidence. She's a poster child of student-athletes. Always goal-oriented, she started developing a plan for her future as a freshman, learning how to organize a busy schedule and manage her valuable time. Mom and dad instilled a work ethic that she applies to everything she does.
"There's no point in doing anything if you're not going to put 100 percent into it," she said. "That's how I've lived every aspect of my life. Everything I've accomplished brings honor, pride back to my family for everything they've done for me."
On those long rides to Carmel, where Tumbas' club soccer team was based, it was mom or dad behind the wheel while Sara maximized her minutes by doing schoolwork.
"It was completely worth it," she said. "A lot of people tell me I'm not going to get the typical college experience, the parties and stuff. I've never placed that high on my priority list. What I'm going to be doing is 100 times better."
Had Tumbas gone to a civilian college, she would've majored in biology. She now tentatively plans to study English, though she also likes the idea of going into aviation.
"There are more pilots who graduated from Navy than Air Force," she said.
Then again, the prospect of spending a month on a submarine or an aircraft carrier sounds appealing, too. Students are required to participate in a sport, so Tumbas will either play soccer, which she's done since she was 4, or run track.
"Who knows?" she said.
At the age of 18, the world is her oyster, and she's definitely earned some pearls.
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.