As I conclude my time at Kent State this semester, like many seniors, I have a lot to reflect on. Four years ago, I came to campus as a 22-year-old freshman. I had earned my G.I. Bill after four years of active service, and I was excited to use it, but I was not sure what to expect. I had packed my life into a U-Haul to move back home with my folks just a week earlier. I remember taking a seat in my first class with people five years my younger and thinking about how I had not been in a classroom in four years. I related to the professor more than my classmates. I never even wanted to go to college.
I felt out of place and lost at Kent for a long time. I missed my regimented life in the service and my community in the service, and I thought I had made a horrible mistake. I could not wait to graduate and move on, possibly back to the service as an officer. I knew it was going to be a long four years of solitude in a place I felt so foreign.
The next year, I decided to make a change. I knew I would not make it much longer at Kent if I stayed on the path of agonizing, academic drudgery. I felt a yearning to become a part of the vibrant community that buzzed around me at Kent every day. I had been commuting to campus like a full-time job I hated for over a year, and I had an overwhelming urge to quit every day.
I helped establish a student organization that year, and it changed everything. I quickly found my people and my place in Kent’s community. I began to feel the camaraderie I desperately missed from the service. I felt connected, needed and fulfilled again. My four years of leadership experience was so needed among my new, younger peers. I was able to take on the mentorship role that so many junior enlisted leaders had played in my development as a leader during the beginning years of my service. I was able to pass that wisdom and experience to the students I interacted with every day on campus.
I joined student government. I helped establish more organizations. I spent more and more evenings on and around campus. I realized I was able to bring so much value to Kent from my experience in the service, and it really made a positive difference in people’s lives. Kent became my home and my community. I did not miss my service anymore, and I felt fulfilled again.
One thing still bothered me when I looked around at the multitude of service and leadership opportunities on campus. Where were my brothers and sisters in arms? Where were my fellow student veterans, sharing their experiences and leading the way? I see veterans and service members on campus every day, but I never see them on the executive boards of student organizations or running for elections in our campus governing bodies. Why?
We have over 700 student veterans on Kent’s campus. They vary in age and experience, but they have one thing in common: service. Serve your community again. Be a part of what you signed up to defend in the first place. Be a part of a new community that needs you. Find your sense of duty again. I promise, it will be worth every minute.
Kevin Cline is a guest columnist. Contact him at [email protected]