Since I have lived in the state of South Carolina, when I tell someone that I was born in Boise, Idaho, an odd bewilderment comes over their faces. The eyes gloss over to the eventual ambivalence and in them, I see the grasping at straws trying to think of, or place what even exists in my home state. “Potatoes!” the forlorn conclusion is finally reached, and I can make a small remark to at least add humor to a very well-travelled path.
My path though started a lot earlier than most that attend Trident Tech. I am 28 years old, I own a house in Awendaw and am getting married in a month from when I am writing this essay now.
I moved across the country when I was eight years-old so that my parents could send their children to a school whose religious doctrine they felt devoted to. I spent my childhood learning of the wild richness of southern culture and making friends in the glow of lightning bugs and crimson sunsets.
When I was 16 though, I had to deal with the realities of the hardships of life much earlier than most. I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia or ALL for short. Treatment lasted three years but the hospital stays ended after the first year.
I went back to school at that point to take on the role of the cancer survivor and the proof of successful prayer and blessings. But unbeknownst to my teachers. friends, and family, I was not okay. I could not express the complex feelings I felt during treatment to anyone. The struggles with thoughts of suicide and loneliness engulfed me.
I chose music to try and release these feelings. So committed was I, that with a 4.0+ GPA, I decided I was not going to waste my time doing SATs and ACTs because I wanted to be in a band. I graduated from high school, moved out and spent the next four years of my life doing drugs and excitedly pursuing something I thought I wanted.
But all fun moments in time stop being fun after too many cycles, and our musical act was crushed underneath the weight of the substance abuse issues that we created in each other.
But in the midst of the rubble that was my existence, something quite wonderful happened: I met the love of my life. She taught me the most important ability that can ever be taught; she showed me how to love myself.
I worked in kitchens and became a manager to support us and save money while she worked with animals at shelters and clinics. But the more I cleaned up my life, the emptier I felt in my work, frustrated with the long hours and mediocre pay. When I could not take it anymore, I took a break from it all and decided to wait for a door to open. I was set on doing catering jobs to pay bills and having enough time to spend with the girl I recently proposed to after dating for five years.
But a door did open, an ad came up when I was going through my nightly phone scrolls before sleep, saying that Trident Tech was doing free tuition during the summer of 2022. I had no idea what I would study so I read through each potential degree trying to picture myself in that role.
I decided on cyber security, something where it is possible to work from home and maybe coincide with being a stay-at-home dad.
Then came the scariest part: starting. As 28-year-old, covered in tattoos, alongside freshly graduated teens, I was terrified. I even had the embarrassing first day of school dream commonly placed in the movies, where I realized I had no clothes on.
But in the end, I took a step, then another and I am having the time of my life learning anything I can get my hands on. I feel alive again, like I was just existing in my professional life. But now I am being challenged in the way I want to, which I guess is what the most amazing part of this school and this opportunity. The teachers and deans have been phenomenal and always want to help. Most importantly, there is always a chance to grab hold of what tomorrow holds.
When any attainment is gained like the degree I am pursuing, it is normal to asks what is it that you are going to give back to the community that helped you reach these goals.
My dad asked me something similar that has stuck with me. When I got out of treatment, he asked me, “If you get rich do you think you will give back to the cancer research and those that struggled like you did?”
I said no, treatment and the whole system had already taken too much.
He then said, “Well then you don't deserve it."
His words were quite harsh, but as I have grown older, I have come to see what he was trying to say. Now my answer has changed.
I might not become a millionaire, but I do know my intentions. What I want to give is my time. It is very precious resource, a fact I had to learn early. Time for my future wife and family, time for the people who are struggling and those that feel like they cannot speak or express how they feel. I am here to listen.