Transitioning from the Army to college has been a struggle. Sometimes I am reminded about my age, either directly or indirectly. For example, whenever a teaching assistant asks in section the year each person was born and the general reply is 2000 or 2001, I feel embarrassed, so I lie and say I was born in 1996, even though I was born in 1992. On social media, I see my friends, who are my age or younger, post about getting a new house, or finishing their Master’s Degree or Ph.D., and I think, damn, 27 years old and I’m barely getting a BA in anthropology. I compare myself with successful friends and classmates, like my friend Julian from high school, who is the same age as I am and has his master’s degree in economics from Cornell University. He’s been working as a senior account manager, and owns a house in the Bay Area. Even my friends at UC Santa Barbara seem to have surpassed me. Geraldo, who is 22, recently finished his BA in economics and works at Warner Brothers Studios. He owns his own condo. I don’t mean to disparage my friends; I am happy for them, but at the same time I feel like I am not at their level, which hurts my pride and brings me down.
However, when I talk to faculty members or other veterans who have felt the same way, they reassure me that I am doing the right thing. They let me know that even though I am older than most students, getting a degree is much better than not having one. My dream is to become a lawyer. I know the road is long and hard, but I believe the journey will be worthwhile. I understand this, and it makes logical sense, but still, at times my mind can’t help but jump to my age and to the fact that I’ll be 33 or 34 when I finish law school. When this happens, I focus on the successes I have already had in my life: I joined the Army. I am the first in my family to attend college. I’ve earned my AA degree. And I was accepted to UCSB.
Andy Ochoa is a fourth-year anthropology major with an emphasis in biology at UC Santa Barbara. He served in the U.S. Army from 2010 to 2016, on active duty for the first four years and in the Reserves for the final two. During his service he spent most of his time at Fort Dix, NJ and Fort Lee, VA.