Read A Marine goes to college Part One, Two, and Three.

After nearly two and a half years of taking extra classes each semester, accelerated courses during the summer and winter breaks, and doing internships during the hours that mere mortals were sleeping, I found myself closing in on graduation day… and once again, utterly terrified.

Leaving the Marine Corps was scary.  Career retention specialists and battalion first sergeants make it a point to ensure you know that the world outside of our beloved green cocoon is a dangerous and confusing one – where there are no lifelines, no backup is coming, and the hand of fate can leave you homeless or unable to support your family.  It sounds like a terrible practice – because it is – but it works wonders on the young psyche that has never had to fend for itself.  An eighteen-year-old that moves out of their parent’s house and into a barracks room has little experience to pull from when leaving the Corps in their twenties, so many Marines have no reason to doubt their leadership’s account of the outside world.

My transitional anxiety had little to do with a fear of poverty – mostly because I’d grown up poor, and although I loved the Jaguar I’d bought used with my Marine Corps paychecks, I never feared a shift back toward old economy cars and crappy housing.  My fears were always cultural.  Would I fit in with college kids?  Would I be miserable?  Now, two years later I’d found that college life was pretty nice.  I had a small group of friends that I felt at home with and had my ego consistently reaffirmed by good grades and college kids that thought the big, bearded guy in the weight room was scary.  It wasn’t a perfect life, but it was a satisfying one – I knew that each day I was working toward a lifelong goal, and that my efforts would pay off in a better standard of living after graduation… but as graduation grew near, I found myself even more afraid of leaving school than I think I had been leaving the Corps.