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Shelby’s Story: Following a Calling

Facing College: Diverse Student Voices from Michigan State University

As told to: Riley Schelhaas

I think, for people that want to go into the military, it’s like you have a calling to do it. That’s kind of how I’ve always seen it. I’ve always wanted to go into the military and it’s been something that’s been in the back of my mind. My grandpa did it. He was in the Army Air Corps as a parajumper and I got to hear stories from him growing up. So that’s always been something I wanted to do.

When I brought up the military to my parents, for them, it wasn’t something they supported until I said I would go to college before I joined.

My main goal at first was medical. I was going to go into the nursing school at MSU and be a flight nurse for the Air Force and I was all set, I had my whole future all planned out. But then, sophomore year, I just had, like, the worst semester in my life. I was in Air Force ROTC and working at a daycare center fifteen hours a week. I was a part of so many extracurricular activities that did volunteering and community service. I was also taking pathophysiology that semester, which is a very hard course in the nursing program.

I just took on too much!

I actually had my letter of acceptance into the nursing program already and all I needed to do was complete all my classes … and then that would be it. I would be fine. But then, the first week in October my grandpa all of a sudden passed away and I had to go home and bury him on my birthday and it was just miserable.

And so, I got back to school and I just kind of, like, shut down. Just for one week, but I completely shut down. I missed an exam because I was at the funeral and I didn’t even think to find out what I needed to do about missing it. I just didn’t think.

So I missed this test in this class and it was worth something, like, one third of my grade, and I ended up completely failing the class. I bombed it. So they took back my acceptance into the nursing program.

That’s when I kind of realized, you know, wow, this is a lot to handle.  I had never failed a class before, ever. I was just so hardcore all the time, I’d never even gotten a C on an exam. And it kind of made me realize, “You’re not perfect. You’re gonna screw up, and you need to take a step back.”

And that’s when I went home for winter break.

I talked to my parents and I just said, “I want to retake the class because I think I should, but I don’t think I want to be a nursing major.” And it was hard because, for so long, I had told everybody I was going to go into nursing. I was going to be a flight nurse. And, um, I realized it just wasn’t for me and I called it quits.

That was my realization I kind of needed to take more time for myself and not always be involved with every little thing, so…I started working less, and, um…hanging out a little more, having fun. I changed my major to dietetics. I had always loved the nutrition side of nursing, and I switched to all these dietetics classes and just really came to enjoy it.

And I’ll still be with the Air Force after graduation, just not as a flight nurse. I commission on May 5 and become a second lieutenant, and then May 6 is graduation, then there’s three months of tech school in Texas, and then I leave for Germany in August. I’ll be stationed there for about three to four years and I’ll be an aircraft maintenance officer.

I’m terrified. ROTC tells you, you know, “We’ve told you everything you need to know and it’s going to be fine,” but I think it’s a lot of learning once you get there and that’s what I’ve been told. But at the same time, I’m confident. I’ve learned from my time here, and I know I can learn how to do this job and the next one after that.

You know, my parents, when I first started talking about the military, weren’t completely encouraging. But after being here at MSU, I think I understand their perspective a little differently. I’m not at all saying that my parents had a bad upbringing for us. Like, I felt fine! I had a really happy childhood. But I guess I didn’t realize how small my house was or how little my parents made or anything like that, until I came here and I had a roommate who grew up more wealthy, and I saw people who came from West Bloomfield and Grand Haven all these really ritzy uppity places.

Coming here made me realize, you know, that I’m capable of giving that to myself. I can live in a different neighborhood. I don’t have to go back to where I was raised. I can be something for myself. I think that’s what my parents wanted me to do, and that’s what I want to do, too.


This story originally appeared in Facing College: Diverse Student Voices, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

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