A Free Haircut Changed A Life

474 671 For Our Wellness

In commemoration of Memorial Day,  Eric Mejia, a member of our amazing Admissions staff, shares memories of his military service and the impact that service had on his life.

The military was never in my plans really. In fact, it was my younger brother who found interest in the Marine Corps after both he and I saw a documentary on 60 Minutes. I remember back in high school walking home from football practice and a friend asked, “Hey Eric, why don’t you join the Marines?” Of course I turned to her and said, “You must be out of your mind if you think I am going to join!” Needless to say, a few months after graduating high school, there I was, sitting on the train to San Diego; MCRD Marine Corps Recruit Depot on March 18th. Funny thing about remembering the day you walk into boot camp, it’s like remembering your birthday: You never forget it!

When I am asked why I joined the Marine Corps, I always joke and say “I wanted a free haircut.” The truth of the matter is I was in a place in my life where I needed discipline. I needed structure in my life and frankly speaking, I was trying to find my place in life. I attended Cerritos City College and though I was never a bad student, it became extremely easy to simply ignore my student responsibility. You are talking about a 17-year-old who found independence. There wasn’t really a sense of accountability and I found myself often hanging out at the student lounge rather than at the library. I recall one afternoon, sitting in the lounge watching TV when a good friend walked in asked what I was doing – it was finals week. I guess it didn’t matter to me.  And while I passed my finals with flying colors, I soon realized I needed to change things around! That’s the “a-ha!” moment I needed to motivate change in my life.

I served eight years in the Infantry unit where I began my career as a Rifleman. After 2 ½ have years in the Marines, I was asked to shift my focus to recruiting. I was a Recruiter for the Marine Corps for close to three years. I take pride in enlisting over 140 young men into the Marine Corps. After my recruitment duty expired, I rejoined my unit where I became a squad leader for our weapons platoon. As a squad leader, I was able to sharpen several traits that I carry with me now –  such as judgement, initiative, practicing being fair and consistent. As a Marine, you are driven toward a goal with purpose, jumping at opportunities with self-improvement that increase your ability to reach that goal.  As a leader of Marines, we look out for the welfare of our teams beyond simple job descriptions, and even their own personal comfort.

The military experience also allowed me to embrace things that are outside of myself and have a much deeper appreciation of our individual story. I think this is why I truly enjoy my role in higher education.

I’ve been in higher education for over six years and the most rewarding aspect of my job is the connection I make with our students. Though I’ve worked with many students with diverse backgrounds, I specifically enjoy working with our student veteran population. This population is a very unique group that face unique obstacles as they transition into higher education. I take it upon myself to ensure that I assist them in their transition into college and offer suggestions to help them navigate through academia.

What I truly enjoy is being a part of our Admissions team. Every member of the team brings their own unique backgrounds. We are experienced therapists, businessmen, academic counselors, educators, and marketing representatives. We are “The Breakfast Club” of admissions.  Whether it is academically or professionally, each of us brings to the table a story which resonates with our students and that helps build trust.

Being a Marine wasn’t easy but it was and continues to be the center of my beliefs. I think these traits have contributed to the decision I’ve made as it relates to my professional careers. As a leader, you have a wonderful opportunity to influence, motivate, teach, and mentor.

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