What it Feels Like to Ride One More Wave

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My life has always revolved around water. Like waves, I have had my fair share of crashing into shore and building myself back up again. I have been asked since I was a child what I want to be when I grow up, but my answer was never the stereotypical doctor, firefighter or veterinarian; my answer has always been to join the Navy. I have always liked the idea of sailing far away from everything I know and having opportunities to explore the world. My grandpa tells me countless stories of his time out at sea, painting pictures of what I wanted my own waters to look like. 

In seventh and eighth grade, my middle school brought my class to the College of Lake County for an event called FutureQuest. FutureQuest was a workshop for students to learn everything about a specific career field. This gave me the opportunity to test the waters of welding. The act of starting from nothing and ending with a product I created gave me an addictive feeling. Now that I am in high school, trying to plan out what I want to do for the rest of my life, I’ve been trying to navigate through choppy waters: new friendships, future plans, added responsibilities. 

In the beginning of my high school career, the tides of my mind pulled the decisions of my future back and forth. Thoughts of college were floating at the surface of my head but the thought of the Navy drifted below. Junior year, I attended the College of Lake County for an introduction to welding night class. As I dove deeper into welding, my decision became clear. From the sight of the fire igniting to the feeling of the sparks hitting my jacket, I knew what I wanted to do. From that point, I began looking at colleges for welding. My waves were slowly building. As the days went on, sitting in a classroom for another four years did not appeal to me; I knew I needed more excitement in my life. I had to leave Antioch, leave my family and leave everything that was comfortable. Although I knew I wanted to be a welder, I felt like something was not complete. I knew I needed a bigger change in my life. Something bigger than college and bigger than Antioch. Something that could show me the endless opportunities the world has to offer. 

My plans went from cresting to crashing overnight. As I sailed from option to option, I was stopped by a Navy recruiter in the commons. While I was talking to him, I felt my wave slowly building back up. I felt like the Navy could be the one thing I was missing. It could challenge me, lead me to more opportunities, and it could be the path that was right for me. The more I thought about the Navy and the more research I did, I felt complete. From my junior to senior year, I became more serious about joining the Navy and felt increasingly confident in my career choice. The waves of my life plans were building momentum. I applied for early graduation and took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test. I started training every day: running, swimming, going to the gym. I started studying the essentials for boot camp to ensure my success. To me, the water was clear, I wanted to join the military. As my senior year went on, conversations of college, roommates, and applications floated around the school. When talking to my friends about the future, I felt like I couldn’t relate to them. At this time, a tidal wave of uncertainty crashed over me. I felt like I was missing something that everyone had built into their future. Their waves were building as mine sunk to nothing. I wanted to feel the excitement of getting accepted into a dream school, I wanted the friendship of a new roommate, and I wanted the milestones everybody else had. 

Pursuing a different current made me feel secluded from everyone around me. I decided to look into colleges, but I didn’t feel authentic; it was important for me to make sure that I actually wanted to go to college for the better of my character, not just because of peer pressure and fear of being different. After numerous conversations with several people with different perspectives, I decided I wanted to go to college. From there I started to apply to welding schools. Through my transition, I felt like everything I had done was for nothing. All of the studying and training I had done in preparation for boot camp was for nothing. I was drowning. I was behind in the application process with only 11 days left until deadlines, it felt like I was too far behind to successfully change paths. 

My mom was the biggest supporter of my decision to change my path. She helped me find schools that appealed to me and she helped me build my wave back up; she encouraged me every day and helped me through the struggles of applying to college and was always patient with me. I knew that welding was still something I wanted to pursue and I knew that I still wanted to join the military, but first, I wanted to jump into the college experience. Growing up, I never cared about being different or choosing different paths that strayed away from the norm. I chose the military because it instantaneously appealed to me but college has always been an important goal that I looked forward to as a kid. The more I thought about my future, I came to the decision that the military will always be available to me, but going off to college at the same time as my friends is something I couldn’t get back if I passed up the opportunity. Changing paths so late was the hardest decision I had to make because I was so confident in the ship I wanted to sail. Experiencing college with my friends would be too hard to give up. One day, after college, I will join the Navy. That ship will wait for me.