This time of year is commencement season at campuses all across the United States. Like proud parents everywhere, we celebrated when our youngest son stepped onto a stage inside a small gymnasium and accepted his hard-won college diploma.
Hard-won? To say the least.
It’s one thing to graduate from high school, enroll in college in the fall, and emerge in four years with a degree.
It’s another thing entirely when you embark on a path that takes to you to multiple states and one foreign country, includes marriage, parenthood, home ownership and military service; and culminates 11 years later with high academic honors as you receive your degree.
That’s the path our son followed — and we couldn’t be prouder. Call it Jordan’s Journey.
When Jordan graduated from Grant High School in 2006, with a full-ride ROTC scholarship to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, we figured we knew the script. Jordan would put in four years, get a degree and graduate as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
A few weeks into his first semester, he wanted out. The physical challenges weren’t a problem, but he’d burned out on the classroom and couldn’t stomach the thought of even more. He withdrew, gave up his scholarship and came back home, trying to figure out what to do next.
He worked for a while and, after a time, he enrolled at the local community college. He did well in the auto repair program and won a scholarship. But, again, his heart wasn’t in it.
When he turned 21, he shocked us both by announcing he wanted to join the Army, specifically to serve in the infantry. He’d always wanted to be where the action was, he told us, and he had a sense of public service dating back to the September 11th attacks in 2001, when he was still in middle school.
When Jordan enlisted, the United States was deep into the Afghanistan War under President George W. Bush. We were hardly stoked by our son’s decision, fearing that he might be called to serve abroad in a dangerous part of the world.
Sure enough, he was, in the last year of his enlistment. You can bet we held our breath and said our prayers while he was deployed for a year. Thankfully, he made it home physically and mentally sound in December 2012 and received his honorable discharge the following spring.
Before all that, however, came a series of transitions. Boot camp in the Deep South. He did basic training at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Initially, he was stationed at the ironically named Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He put in for a transfer and got moved to Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Washington, about 150 miles north of Portland.
While still a soldier, he came home to Oregon and married his sweetheart, Jamie Lynn. They moved to Texas and then to Washington. Using his G.I. Bill benefits, they bought a house on a culdesac in suburban Spanaway and he enrolled in school, a freshman again at age 25.
For the next four years, he would commute about 25 miles each way to Saint Martin’s University, a small Benedictine school with a reputation for being veteran-friendly.
After meeting all the physical challenges the military could throw at him, Jordan did the same in the classroom. He majored in biology but also took chemistry, physics, calculus and other rigorous courses, earning high marks in every one.
When baby Emalyn was born last July, Jordan had just completed his junior year. His final year of school would mean adding a layer of responsibility as a young father.
Well, he did it.
He graduated magna cum laude, meaning with a grade-point average between 3.7 and 3.89. As a rising junior, he was selected for a federally funded summer research fellowship in cellular and molecular biology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Now, with diploma in hand and Emalyn already 10 months old and crawling, Jordan’s life path is taking him and his young family to the American Heartland. They are moving to Columbia, Missouri, where Jordan will do science research in a fellowship program designed to help students prepare for the rigors of graduate school.
It’s the next phase of Jordan’s journey, one that could take several years and culminate in a Ph.D., there in Missouri or elsewhere. Obviously, we will miss having Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn three hours away — now they’ll be 2,000 miles and two time zones away. But we are excited for all three of them as they embark on this new adventure and we are already making plans to visit.
This weekend, we are paying them one last visit in Spanaway, helping them to pack up their belongings and their animals for an anticipated four-day drive in a U-Haul truck and trailer. Jordan and I will split the driving. Jamie and Emalyn will come down to Portland to stay with Lori for a few days, then fly out to Missouri to join Jordan.
On Graduation Day a week ago, we were thrilled that our other children could share in Jordan’s accomplishments. And we were struck by the oddity of one number all three have in common.
Nathan, the oldest, started at the University of Oregon, dropped out, found himself, and returned to school at Portland State University. At age 29, he graduated with degrees in business and marketing.
Simone, the middle child, graduated from Vassar, studied in Mexico and worked in Portland before returning to graduate school. At age 29, she graduated with a masters from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.
Now comes along Jordan. He, too, just graduated at age 29.
If this pattern holds, Lori and I will be somewhere in the year 2046 watching Emalyn receive a degree of some kind at age 29.