Strolling around the Kapi‘olani Community College campus in my first few days as an overly ecstatic student in my mid-20s, I’ve earned myself some odd looks. It could also be the collection of visible tattoos or the hair and beard that haven’t been trimmed in months. The combination of all three likely explains the common double-takes I receive from students and faculty.
The experiences that led me here have given a brand new meaning to the “college experience.” The path has been long and arduous up until now, but with each new day it becomes more rewarding. Seven years ago I slept on a classmate’s couch the night before high school graduation, just as I had done for over a year after being kicked out of my house at the age of 16. Four years ago I worked 80 hours per week with only a few days off each month. A year ago I sat on a warship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, not knowing or caring what day it was.
Now, at KCC, this school represents an opportunity at education that I had formerly been deprived of. Attending this school means more than sitting in the classroom and waiting for the lecture to be over. Each day as I leave my final class with a higher level of knowledge, I believe that KCC was the best choice for me. As hard as it is for me to believe that I’m officially a college student, the dedicated employees at this school make me feel right at home.
When I began living a life of my own at the age of 16, I had very little to none of the answers. When my high school graduation rolled around, I absolutely dreaded it. With no cash and an even smaller amount of resources at my disposal, I took a job working at a steel-pipe factory in High Point, N.C, the same city where I had been born and raised.
It was the standard experience in the area and many people I had grown up with had already done the same. I rapidly began feeling imprisoned in my own birthplace. The same working hours, pay, local faces and lackluster choices playing on repeat had backed me into a corner. It was that day I decided to find out what the world had to offer.
The visit to my local Navy recruiting office didn’t even last for half an hour. A few months later I stood at attention while a screaming sailor called out my name so loudly that I was ashamed for ever having it. I spent the next 5 long years traveling the world and working the day away at sea. It seems as if 20 years of life experience were crammed into that contract.
I kept my passions close; writing, music, and traveling made up the majority of who I was becoming, or wanted to become. There wasn’t a ton of time for exploring what you care about in the military. Twelve-hour workdays for seven uninterrupted months don’t exactly beg you to find the time that you need to stay interested in things unrelated to your job.
As the end of my contract approached, I started to feel indifferent toward what had once put a smile on my face. I became unhappy, hard to talk to, and generally disinterested in anything other than sleeping. The final day of my contract arrived, and I walked away for the last time with my small bundle of possessions, unsure of how to feel.
I was finally free; I could go anywhere and do anything. On the other hand, I felt like I had made a huge circle leading back to square one. I moved to Hawai‘i in September 2019 so that I could prepare myself for becoming a first-time college student. Most days I felt that something would go wrong or that I had made an irreversible mistake. The negativity continued to flourish and for stretches of days, I didn’t even leave my apartment. Everything seemed like an insurmountable obstacle that I would never be able to defeat.
But when I first walked around campus, I took in the natural beauty that KCC has to offer and immediately my fears and anxiety disintegrated. The staff has been incredibly helpful in preparing me for my first semester. The experience feels almost personal and the staff truly wants to make it enjoyable. When I had a question about the registration process for veterans, a faculty member walked with me to the correct building and helped me resolve the issue very quickly.
Waking up early for class feels more like a positive start to my day rather than the chore it had previously been. The professors are passionate about what they teach and make it unbelievably easy to follow along and understand why they are the right person for the job. The atmosphere at KCC has coached me back to my feet and dusted off the blanket of worry I had been covered in. When I arrive on campus each morning, I know that the challenges ahead can be faced with confidence; I know that I won’t be alone in doing so either.