Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dream Fulfilled Part II: My Graduate School Experience

When I received my Bachelor's Degree from the University of South Florida four years ago, I felt like I was floating on cloud nine! I wrote an article titled "DreamFulfilled: The Necessity of Higher Education" and talked about my educational experience up to that point and expressed my sincere gratitude to the people who helped me get there. Here I am four years later, the proud new holder of a Master's Degree in Communication and Leadership from Park University. I am going to talk about my graduate school experience with the hope of inspiring people around me to pursue or continue pursuing their educational and life goals.

My journey towards a Master's Degree started in January of 2014. I took a few years off after finishing undergraduate school because I needed to devote time to taking care of some obligations for my military career. My time wearing the uniform will be coming to an end within the next five years or so and my deteriorating knee condition forced me to think about what I want to do once I retire from the Marine Corps. I wanted to make myself as marketable as possible when I make the transition from being on active duty to the civilian world and I believed completing this degree program would help with that process.

I knew I wanted to go to graduate school because that was a long term goal I set for myself when I started taking classes with Park University in 2007. That long term goal was now my new short term goal and I needed to get started before I spent too much time away from the academic world. I knew going in that this process wasn't going to be easy, but it was a process that I had to go through in order to get to my goal.

I had to study for and take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) to get into graduate school. The test itself was very difficult, but I scored well enough to be accepted. I think what helped me the most was my strong grades and credibility with Park University from my previous time with the school (2007-2010). I only took one class per semester because that's all the time I could afford to give. My obligations at home and at work were too great for me to do more than one class. I didn't want to stretch myself too thin by taking on a heavy class load and thankfully I didn't because one class at times felt like I was taking three or four.

I really enjoyed most of the classes I took, but there were some assignments/projects that really tested my patience and desire to complete the program. Anyone that has spent any time with me at all knows that academic excellence is not optional. I am not satisfied with making anything less than A's in school because I know I have the ability to do so if I put in the time and effort required. I managed to make straight A’s throughout graduate school, finishing with a 4.0 GPA. In the grand scheme of things, are employers going to ask me if I made all A's in grad school? Probably not, but just in case they do, I want my transcripts to have as many A's as possible and I was fortunate enough to achieve my goal. I've been called an over achiever more than once in my life, but I take it as a compliment and keep striving to be the best at everything I get involved in.

I feel obligated to succeed to prove that despite the obstacles life throws my way, with a combination of determination, a good work ethic, and making good decisions, I could beat the odds. Some might suggest that fear is a bad thing, but going through this program reinforced my approach to life in that I use the fear of failure as motivation. My fear of failure has driven me to be successful at everything I have attempted to do in life. I will not allow fear to stop me from doing things that can move me forward to achieve the goals I've set for myself. Simply put, I cannot afford to fail because there are too many people looking up to me and depending on me to succeed.

My fear of failure could be linked to growing up with very little money and wanting a better life for my family. I don't have fear in my heart because my parents were too critical of me, unsupportive, or routinely undermined or humiliated me in childhood. I did not experience a traumatic event at some point in my life where I performed poorly or fell apart when the pressure was on me to perform. My parents have been loving and supportive of me from the start, but they were also very demanding and ran a tight household. Part of what continues to drive me to succeed is the fact that I grew up seeing too many people struggling to earn a decent living and I decided early on in life that I needed to do something different.

With everything I have been blessed with up to this point in my life and going forward, I still have an obligation to never forget the people who are not as fortunate as I have been and extend my hand to them to assist them in achieving their goals and dreams. In the spirit of philanthropist W.E.B. Du Bois' Talented Tenth concept, I believe that leadership can arise from many levels and grassroots efforts on the part of people like myself can have a tremendous impact on the social change we want to see in communities all over the world. There are people all over the world who have suffered the most and have the least to lose that are depending on today's generation of leaders for our steadfast, dependable, and uncompromising leadership.

What's Next:
Considering one of my future goals is to become a college professor, this program presented a perfect opportunity for me to see how well prepared I am to transition from the Marine Corps to a college campus. Being a lifelong learner, I am going to continue reading as many books as I can. I have purchased many books periodically over the last couple of years, but never got the opportunity to read them because I just didn't have time. I did manage to squeeze in reading about 50 articles a day and that number will probably go up quite a bit now that I have a lot more free time on my hands.

At some point in the next five years or so, I do plan to pursue a doctoral degree, but right now I plan on taking a break from academia and enjoy spending my free time doing things I really enjoy doing. Speaking of free time, I'll be spending many, many hours on my back porch cooking meat. That's my happy place and something I really enjoy doing, so I am going to take full advantage of this time trying to perfect my craft on the grill and smoker.

My blog will be back in action after a two year hiatus. Keep your eyes open for some hard-hitting opinion pieces that will hopefully provoke thought and stimulate good dialogue amongst friends and colleagues.

Thank You:
I'd first like to thank my wife and kids for their tireless support during this process. Thank you so much for the support you provided on the many late nights, early mornings, and countless hours of sitting behind a computer reading, writing, and working on projects. I am driven to be excellent in everything I do because I am trying to set the right example for you to follow. You young ladies are the reason that failure is not an option for me. Thank you!

To my loving parents who always encouraged me, believed in me, and prayed for me, thank you. I have always tried to make my parents proud and this accomplishment is a testament to how well they raised me and the values they instilled in me. 
To the Marines who have worked and currently work with me, thank you. Thank all of you for your patience, tolerance, and understanding while doing my best to set the right example for you to emulate. My hope is that you've seen me go through the process and realize you too have the ability to exceed anything I have accomplished because you guys are a lot smarter than I am. The question is, do you have the drive it takes to get you to that point and beyond? Challenge issued!

To the three people I asked to write letters of recommendation for me when I applied to graduate school; Mr. Theodore Parrish, Ms. Jennifer Simpson, and Ms. Monique Smith. I made a promise to the three of you that if you put your good name on the line for me, I would come through for you and I did. I have reached out to the three of you for mentorship and guidance along the way and words cannot express how grateful I am to have people like you in my life.

Ted, you are like the big brother I never had. The things you've accomplished in your career helped inspire me to reach for the stars and I will be forever grateful for our friendship and brotherhood. We've had some long, involved conversations about life, business, and careers and you've never guided me wrong. I don't know if you realize how many people look up to you for being such a successful person in the investment world. What impresses me the most is that you have never forgotten where we came from and always represent Folkston, Georgia with the highest level of dignity and respect. You've set the bar high my friend and I look forward to continuing to be the kind of example young people want to follow and emulate.

Jennifer, we spent three of the most wonderful years of our lives together at the NROTC unit at USF. Even though you were my boss, it was our ability to work together as a team that helped us be as successful as we were. I wish you had stayed in the Corps a little bit longer because leaders like you are hard to find. Young Marines are thirsty to be around squared away Marines like yourself and I will always have very fond memories of the time we spent together as colleagues and friends.

Monique, we have been friends since middle school and I am thankful that our friendship has stood the test of circumstance, time, and distance. You set the example for me to follow and I'm sure I told you this many times before, but you continue to impress me. When you were named to the Jacksonville Business Journal's 40 Under 40 in 2014, I thought to myself, "I need to step my game up because my sister is leaving me in the dust!" I appreciate your passion for your job and for challenging me in your own way to succeed beyond our dreams.

To my NJZ Family in Tampa, thank you. You guys are the finest group of professional, highly successful men and women who took me under your wings and treated me like I was a family member. Our friendship means the world to me and I'm happy to have a good set of people like you in my life.

To my Kamp-8 crew in Okinawa, thank you. Fellas, every one of you supported me during this journey and gave me the encouragement I needed to get through some tough times. Its people like you guys that makes being a Marine one of the best jobs in the world. Now I'll have a little bit more time to smash some heads in dominoes, so stand by for the beatings!

To Mrs. Marie Hill at the MCAS Futenma Education Office, thank you. I cannot tell you how many times I came into your office after finishing a class and you treated me like I was the most important customer you'd talk to that day. Your smile and telling me to keep pushing to the end really made a difference.

To Dr. Lora Cohn and Dr. Mark Noe, thank you. You two were my primary professors in the program and I really appreciate all of the guidance you've given me along the way. I learned so much from you and how to conduct business in the classroom as a true professional. I hope to continue working with you in the near future if the opportunity presents itself for me to be a part of the Park faculty.

To all of my family and friends who have supported me in one way or another, thank you as well. I'll be the first to admit that I am not the smartest, sharpest, or brightest person in the world; but what I have been blessed with is a work ethic that helps me overcome all of my natural shortcomings. I tell people all the time, if you can invest time on social media, you can certainly invest time in yourself to go to school. Hopefully something I've said here helps someone realize that their dreams are reachable and achievable.

Originally published by Steve Maynor Jr. on May 11, 2016 via