As I looked on at the excitement that the first class cadets had this past Billet Night when they received orders to their first unit, I began to examine my college experience while closing in on only a year left of my undergraduate degree. I have been fortunate enough to attend civilian college, preparatory school and the Academy. All three of these institutions offered different skills and lessons that have shaped me into the person I am today. My first college experience was at the University of South Florida. I knew that, being a shy person, I should join a small team to make friends at this huge college of over 48,000 students. I joined the crew team and a few clubs I found interesting around campus. I started by taking 15 credits and was in charge of my own schedule, which was pretty great since I had a job a Walgreens. This was my first taste of independence and it felt great. Being in control of my own schedule allowed me to make social plans and explore Florida’s vast array of theme parks and tourist traps at my leisure. As the semester progressed, I began to realize just how much independence I really had. Since I was paying for school, teachers did not really mind if I did not show up to the auditorium lectures of 500+ students and I was never forced to see the teacher if I did not understand a lesson and I mistakenly, in hindsight, did not have a study group of people from my classes. These conditions ultimately led to my grades not being the best reflection of my capabilities. I really did enjoy the beautiful lawns full of people playing ultimate Frisbee and enjoying the sun, climbing campus trees and being exposed to so many different types of people and ideas on a daily basis. However, I knew that if I wanted to make the most of my college experience and of my potential, I needed to find a place that I was invested in enough to want to do my best every day, both academically and morally.
I reapplied to the Coast Guard Academy and received an appointment to one of the Coast Guard Academy’s preparatory schools, Georgia Military College. This was such a great year! My best friend and I reminisce about that time frequently. I was able to learn about the Army and their missions and start creating good study habits with a prescribed course schedule. This experience forced me to be more accountable and think about my actions because now I was gaining an education off taxpayers’ dollars; I wanted to make them proud and show that the Academy had made a good choice in choosing me. This time in my life also allowed me to start deciding what was important for my future and allow me to better acquaint myself with what the Coast Guard actually does and how I could see myself fitting into this organization. One short year later, I made it to the Academy. What a challenge I faced! Some of the hardest things I have had to deal with professionally, emotionally, and mentally have occurred while I have been at the Academy. My time is no longer my own, as I have a short 200-week program to turn me into a service-ready ensign in the Coast Guard fleet. I have matured greatly in these past few years because I have learned to also consider others that I work with and affect, as well as understand the great opportunity I have been given, which I have been very fortunate to receive.
To sum it all up, USF allowed me the most autonomy and I was able to practice my independence. But, my successes and failures were my own and there wasn’t necessarily anyone there to back me up if and when I needed it. Preparatory school was a great way to get to know other services and affirm my decision in choosing the Coast Guard. The Academy is one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences I have had thus far. I am learning each day and it is a continual process. I am also a part of a community and we succeed and fail together; I do not have to do anything alone. And although the Academy owns most of my time, it really allows me to think of how I will use the time I do have to myself and to make better use of that time. I am so fortunate to have stumbled upon the Academy. It is a unique experience and it may not be for everyone, but I hope my insight to both civilian and military college gave you some food for thought!
More about Sydney.