From Marine Corps boot camp to books

By John Fennell
October 20, 2006

I survived Marine Corps boot camp. I never imagined going back to school would be just as big of a challenge. My mother always counseled that any break in my education would make it harder to complete once I did go back. Just this once, I wish I had listened.

When I left Elizabethtown College after the fall semester in 2001, I had all the intentions of going back to school. I planned to be back in school and make my mother happy in no time.

I had joined the Marines and would be spending 13 glorious weeks on a very pleasant island in South Carolina starting in October. Three months in South Carolina, two weeks in North Carolina and another six weeks in the lovely desert of California.

I was immature when I first set foot on a college campus. I was not thinking about graduating. I wanted to meet new people and have a good time. I had no idea what moderation or responsibility was.

Honor, Courage and Commitment are three words Marines learn in preparation for a life dedicated to something bigger then themselves. So when it is time to return to civilian life the seeds that are planted and coaxed to grow in inhospitable conditions (a swamp in South Carolina) are rooted in the Marine’s personality (Once Always; Once a Marine Always a Marine.)

These are necessary tools I did not have in my previous life. They are now so engrained that success was assured. I have the courage to go back to school knowing I will be out of place because of age and life experience.

Here I am, still honoring my responsibilities inside and outside of class that often will conflict with each other. I will need to accept the consequences. I will stay committed no matter what, long after it has gotten tough and I want to quit and go back to my easier life.

Inevitably, there will be some doubt from others who will question my ability or commitment to this new college experience. Those same doubts were there before boot camp and will be there long after I graduate. But I take comfort in the knowledge that I can tackle the impossible and rise above. Nothing fortifies you against doubt like having a vicious drill instructor screaming with spit flying in your face, using words you cannot repeat in polite company.

The same can be said of being forced to wake up at 0530 regardless of how much you had to drink the night before. Therefore, an 8:00 am class after getting home late and going to bed even later because of class work is nothing.

Trying to evade campus security because you do not want them to tell your parents you were off campus drinking does not compare to convincing the base MPs you are not that drunk so they do not tell your CO and he comes up with some sort of biblical punishment that has you wishing he just called your parents.

I finally decided it was time to get serious and finish my education. When I was younger it was easy to find a reason not to go to class or not pay attention when I actually attended. Now when it is my money and my time, it is worth the effort I invest. Here is another boot camp axiom courtesy of the drill instructors “You get out of it what you put in.”

I no longer have the luxury of skipping class to drink or not go even because I feel too hung over. If I do want to make that mistake it is my responsibility to be up the next day to be in class. I can not afford to come home and forget myself in a game of Halo 2 for Xbox. My free time is now spent running between, juggling and balancing work and school.

When I first left for college, my first week was spent making friends, learning the new culture and finding ways to fit in.

The only time I spend in the Jazzman’s Caf

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John Fennell

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