One of the fundamental questions we should ask ourselves as student-veterans is what it means to be educated. Why do we care to educate ourselves? Without a doubt, a university education and the credentials it brings are springboards from which we pursue successful careers as professionals. We realize, however, that education carries with it deeper implications as well. To be educated is to have the capacity to inquire on the holistic nature of the universe. It is to question society’s traditional doctrines and have the mental fortitude to forge an independent path in order to live a more fulfilling and enlightened life. To be educated is to know how to look, question, and challenge the world and the people that surround you and shape a worldview based on those observations and investigations. Thinking critically, practicing empathy, and using reason as a guide are all products of an education that lead to a more rewarding human experience.
Of course, in a pragmatic sense, to be educated is also to be competent in perceiving, analyzing, interpreting, and expressing information. Through the acquisition of formal education, we learn these skills so we can provide specialized contributions to society. Whatever those contributions, whether in the field of the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, formal sciences, or whatever it may be, we acquire through education the tools necessary to contribute to the ethos that defines our society. I find it hard, then, to understate the importance of education – not only as a means to an end, but as an end in itself.
I also find it worth mentioning that we, as student-veterans, are in a special situation through which we can apply the above-stated attitudes on education to their fullest extent. As hard as it is to understate the importance of education, it is equally, if not more so, difficult to understate the importance of experience. The experience garnered through our time in the military, whether in the crucibles of combat or through the rigors of training, has provided us with degrees of wisdom that help us better appreciate the academic journey for the life-altering experience that it is. How many of us made a go at university after graduating high school, young and naïve, only to find ourselves completely void of purpose with a lack of desire to learn? How many of us then found ourselves with a craving for success, for a desire to pursue an enlightened view of the world, after years of military service?
I implore you then, reader, to be wholly conscious of who you were before and who you are now. I implore you to meditate on the importance of education, what it means to you, and the fortunate condition you are in to appreciate it in all its grandeur. Your academic journey is and will be a defining aspect of your life and one you will look back on in the years to come with pride and honor.