I thought everyone knew Rodney King. This particular woman didn’t, and it irked me. How can you not know the man whose beatdown sparked one of the deadliest riots in the country? Was she asleep when they showed the video 89 trillion times?
But I’d forgotten something: The young woman who said, “huh? Whose that” was probably born on the year or year before the King beating; and no more than two-years old during the LA riots. It’s easy to have a generation mismatch with a nineteen-year-old when you’re thirty-eight. I’m two times older than her. Two times. Damn. Father Time can be so cruel.
But ya know what? It’s all good. Just one of those things to expect when you go back to college after spending twenty years in the Navy. And I don’t feel out of place at all, despite my age and color (not many brothas at my school). Most students are shocked to know my real age, anyway. Everyone thinks I’m in my 20s. Big ego boost right there.
Yup, I like my new role as full-time student. Unlike what I felt in high school, school is cool. I go to Cabrillo, a junior college just south of Santa Cruz. Courtesy of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, I not only don’t have to pay for tuition, I get a monthly allowance AND book stipend. Free money for school. Yeah. Can you say “sweet?”
Flyers of school events posted everywhere. Posters of the next play by theater students. Young adults lying in the grass, chillin’, studying, developing a fling.about the next exam sprinkling around me. It’s all part of the vibe of higher education, and I’m knee-deep in it.
Some things haven’t changed for me, though. While in class, my eyes sometimes stare at the instructor, but my brain floats somewhere to the next basketball game or something. Still late to class, too. That’s a damn shame, huh? How the hell am I late to class when the military teaches punctuality in boot camp?
Probably because I’m no longer military. I’m on my own schedule now, dag-nabbit.
It’s funny, too. Specks of pop culture’s past seem to spring up everywhere. The other day, I saw a kid wearing a Dead Kennedys shirt, a punk rock band from the 80s. Some students are still carrying on the legacies of Bob Marley and Bruce Lee on T-shirts, just like my generation did. And will Chuck Taylors ever go out of style? Probably not. It’s cool to witness retro stuff almost everyday.
But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to students taking notes with laptops. That’s too 21st century for me.
For Military: If you’re about to separate from active duty and looking to go back to school full-time, here are some tips:
1. Make sure your SMART transcripts are up-to-date. You’d be surprised at what some colleges will take. That includes NKO courses, military schools, and specific certifications.
2. Know which GI Bill you want (Montgomery or Post 9/11?). Just because the Post 9/11 GI Bill is the best thing since Starbucks coffee, it doesn’t mean it’s the best for your situation. In some cases, the Montgomery GI Bill will pay you more monthly.
3. Know what kind of school you want. Junior college, public university, private university, trade school–which one? Brick-and-mortar or online? Or do you just need a specific certification? Full-time or part-time student? These decisions affect your GI Bill status. Also, I’ve yet to see a school that isn’t veteran friendly. Cabrillo has a great veteran support system. University of Santa Cruz has received a lot of attention for its support of veterans.
4. Get familiar with the certifying official. This person will help you with all your GI Bill needs. You should know him or her by first name.
5. Seek out other veterans. Hey, they’re just like you and they can be another resource, especially when you’re fresh out the military. Cabrillo actually has a veterans club comprised of all branches. If your school doesn’t have one, you may consider starting one.
6. Consider pausing the GI Bill. If the tuition is not too expensive and you can afford it, it may be better to pause it and use later for a more expensive school. In my case, I’m pausing the GI Bill until I transfer to a university. Also, you can apply for financial aid if you qualify, even with the GI Bill (because it’s not considered income). Nice!
7. Get Involved. Don’t be idle! Get involved! Join a school club! Volunteer! It’s amazing how much you can grow your personal network system simply by asking questions and just “doing.” I volunteer at a veterans center (where we help veterans with PTSD) and stroke center. I wouldn’t have known about them if I hadn’t asked questions or gotten involved.