My undergrad experience at Texas A&M International University was almost two full calendar years. I began school full time in January 2015 during Wintermester. As I think about it today, it doesn’t feel like such a distant memory. From then on, I pushed on through the spring semester, summer sessions, and fall. Then I repeated the process in 2016, and now I’m here. I was able to do this because I had free tuition.
Initially, some people wonder how I did it. They thought that I had rich parents that paid every session and semester, which is likely. They thought I got massive amounts of scholarships because of how well I’ve performed in my classes which is also likely, but I didn’t do any of that.
I did receive some scholarship money from my university after I graduated high school in 2012, but I was denied it because I wasn’t going to attend that following fall semester. My parents had no intention of funding my college expenses. I was a studious throughout high school with strong determination to go to college, but my father didn’t like my major, and he and I would fight a lot too. My mother lived in a different state at the time, so I couldn’t claim her income on FAFSA. It was one of the worst situations of my young life, and I did what many people do. I took an oath, and enlisted in the Navy.
To be totally honest, now that I have been educated and almost completed the long term goal that I planned when I was 18 years old, I can’t reflect on my military career on a positive note. I enlisted when I was 18, and I went to boot camp that same year. I enlisted as a reservist, so after all my trainings, I went back home, and led a civilian life. In 2013, while awaiting for orders to deploy, I worked in a call center and took some part-time classes at the university. Those I paid in full. In 2014, I deployed overseas to the Persian Gulf. There was some good days, but a lot more bad ones. I was 20 years old. From then on out, I hated my young life. In comparison to the many young men at TAMIU, I had accelerated my age by ten years. I don’t even want to get into my experiences overseas. All of this I did for free tuition at a state university.
Eventually, I came back which leads us to January 2015, when I started full time school. The Texas Hazelwood Act waived all my charges of tuition, so I could take as many courses as I liked whenever I liked, and I most certainly did. Most of my semesters were stacked with 18 credit hours. Benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs kept me well fed and sheltered during my college tenure. I live in a comfortable apartment with my brother, I own a decent car, I eat every day, and my parents are far away.
Most people are content by these results. I served my country, so now I’m entitled to benefits in doing so. However, that is how the regular person sees it. I don’t see it that way. I know that I did not fight for freedom and democracy around the world. I’m not that naïve. I’m graduating with a political science degree. I know that I did what I did just for the one goal of going to college. A lot of students tell me how they could never join the military, and I don’t blame them. It is not entirely too difficult. It is just really frustrating and stressful, especially to young people. There’s a reason why suicide rates are so high in the military. Either way, I still did it because college tuition is insanely unaffordable.
Though the title says otherwise, no, I did not kill anyone overseas, at least none that I can confirm, but I know that there have been so many troops that have been in the same position I was, and got their hands dirtier than mine.
The original GI Bill was passed during World War II. Imagine all the soldiers who went to all the subsequent wars that followed. Imagine having to go to Vietnam, Fallujah, or the Helmand Province, just to go college. Think about all the bright minds who were put in my situation, but unlike me, they didn’t make it home. Think about the people who died and the people they killed because tuition is so damn expensive.
Truth is, I don’t feel proud of myself. I going to graduate Magma Cum Laude with a bunch of cords and medals around my cap and gown. Then I’m likely going to go to graduate school, but I’m still not proud of it. Here I am graduating as a scholar without a scholarship. Universities want scholars to give scholarships to. They only follow the regulations of the VA because the government tells them otherwise. Who wants to give free tuition to anyone? The university doesn’t make any money out of that.
I want to be proud, but I won’t be, at least not yet. I don’t want my future children to have to do what I did just to go to college. Just as my parents failed me as their child, I will have failed my children if they repeated after me. I don’t want other young people to be forced into a similar situation like mine. I understand that not everyone is studious, but there are plenty that are that deserve a fair chance. No one should have to kill for free tuition. From one extreme situation we also see the same dreadful alternative. The military isn’t the only unfortunate outcome. Students are finding themselves in spiraling debt, their parents are going broke, they themselves are going broke, or they’re simply giving up on their degree with the burden so heavy.
I’m going to graduate soon. My parents will be there; so will my friends and siblings. They know that this is an achievement. They know all the accolades mean something great. Most importantly, they know how far I went to get there. Too far, if I do say so myself.