When Mark Gorenflo brought home report cards from Oakton High School in Fairfax County, "I'd look 'em over and tell him, 'The same story again: No improvement,' " said his father, retired Navy Capt. Louis Gorenflo.
There was no improvement because Mark Gorenflo never got a grade he could improve on. He brought home only A's from his high school.
He has not done as well at the U.S. Naval Academy, the school he was determined to attend from the time he was 10 years old.
Gorenflo was among 1,068 Mids graduated from the academy and commissioned Navy officers in a postcard-perfect, blue-sky ceremony today. But he finished with only a 3.96 grade-point average, .04 of a point below perfect.
The lone offending B, said his father, came in his third year, when he completed his studies a month early to prepare for a summer abroad in France. "I asked him if it was worth it," said the senior Gorenflo. "He said, 'Definitely.' "
But there was no shortage of Gorenflo honors today, anyway. As his proud father watched from the sun-splashed stands of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the 21-year-old Herndon man was the first Mid to speak at graduation and first to receive his diploma.
He was rated No. 1 in his class, based on academic achievement plus performance in all other areas of training.
He will work this summer in the office of the secretary of the Navy at the Pentagon before shipping overseas, not to a duty assignment but to Oxford University, where he will study as a Rhodes scholar.
This year he was brigade commander in the first semester, putting him in charge of the entire 4,500-member student body, and a Trident scholar in the second semester, which freed him to pursue independent studies.
The year before he was regimental commander.
Gorenflo is slat-thin (he lost 15 pounds working four to six hours a day as brigade commander, said his father), dark-haired, deferential, intellectual rather than athletic, ambitious and serious.
Of the football-field full of Mids who became ensigns today, only a handful will rise to flag rank of commodore or admiral. It might pay to keep an eye on Gorenflo.
Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr., who gave the graduation address, directed the new officers to work within the Navy system, but added, "Don't ever give away your essential self, your individuality . . . your daring."
He could have tailored the remarks to fit Gorenflo, who looked at the academy curriculum before his plebe year and determined that the best way to become a well-rounded engineer was to sign on as, of all things, an English major.
"There is an institutional bias against it," admitted Gorenflo on the eve of his graduation, "but I studied it and found that being in the humanities would give me more flexibility."
As an English major he could pick and choose engineering and science courses, he said, but if he majored in mathematics, a science or one of the engineering specialties, his course load would be pre-established.
Anyway, Gorenflo said, he likes to write and didn't want to lose that skill.
His affection for writing and the sea are family traits. His paternal grandfather was a tour-boat captain out of Biloxi, Miss., who found time to write articles occasionally.
The grandfather designed a "Biloxi dinghy," said Louis Gorenflo, and had an article about it published in Popular Mechanics.
From this Mississippi equivalent of a Chesapeake waterman's family sprang a Navy family.
Louis Gorenflo joined Navy ROTC at the University of Mississippi and rose to captain in the operations office at the Pentagon.
Along the way nearly everything he did was watched and copied enthusiastically by his eldest son.
"The man you see today is the child I saw yesterday," the elder Gorenflo said. "He grew up in the Navy, and he liked it."
A diversion on days off, the retired captain said, was to take his son down to the docks of whatever Navy base they were near and have him identify ships, weapons systems and anything else new and mechanical. It was a diversion that delighted the boy and still delights the man.
After Oxford University, Gorenflo will go into submarine service. For the long run, the father believes the son's goal might be chief of naval operations, "but he'd never admit that."
Meanwhile, there was celebrating by the elder Gorenflo, his wife, Ann, and other family members.
The father had dampness around the eyes as he hurried onto the football field at ceremony's end, dressed in full parade whites, to embrace his son and replace the young man's midshipman's shoulder boards with ensign's insignia.
Then they saluted.
Said the father: "The Gorenflo gap is closed."