“The Only Thing to Do”: Part 2

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Interview with 20 year old U.S. Marine Corps Reservist Lance Corporal KW.

KW knew upon graduation that in a few months he would be getting his high-fade and reporting for duty. Entering at 17 required parental consent, which he obtained from his mother but not his estranged Marine father whom refused to support KW’s decision to join. To circumvent this hurdle KW decided to postpone his basic training until the week after his 18th birthday.

KW completed his basic and career training in late 2010. KW was trained as an electrician; however he has not found a civilian electrician job to date. Every month, KW attends the mandated “Drill” training, in accordance with Reserve protocol He completed his first semester of his college education in Spring 2012, and plans on continuing next fall. KW currently lives with his mother in Orange County, California.

The Interview

OLT: Why did you decide to join the Marine Corps?

KW: I joined because I wanted to be a better person than my dad.

OLT: Wasn’t your father in the military as well?

KW: Yeah. I never knew him. My parents separated when I was too young to remember.

OLT: Some might see your decision to go into the military as “following in his footsteps” but I know you feel otherwise, can you explain a little about why that is?

KW: Well it was entirely my choice to join. Part of it was to be a better man like I said, and mostly because I didn’t want to have just any other job. I didn’t join because of him, being a better man than him is just a good motivation for me to work hard.

OLT: Why did you think that being in the military would make you a better person? And has it?

KW:  Well there’s a certain prestige that comes with it but I didn’t join for that really, not for other people. I guess the only way I could describe it was that I did it for myself. Because I wanted to feel like I was doing something worthwhile.

OLT: What is your favorite part of being in the military, also what is your least favorite?

KW:  I just like working. I have great friends at my job, good NCO’s. My job is pretty hands-on, plus I work with different sections. My least favorite is like any other job, because any other job will have people who annoy the hell out of you. Like with any job there’s the stupid little things that get to you.

OLT: I know you are very happy with your decision to join the Marines, but is there anything that was even slightly disenchanting for you?

KW:(He paused.) Sometimes I wish I picked another job, still in the Marines but I really wanted to be a crewman for a Light Armor Vehicle. I chose electrician instead, it’s still a good job. Sometimes I also want to work in the heavy equipment operator field.

OLT: What are your plans for the next year or so?

KW: Stay in the Marines, do my job, move near a college I want to go to.

OLT: Any ideas where you would like to go to college, or what you would like to major in?

KW: I want to get certification as an electrician first then go from there. As for college, preferably somewhere in San Diego. (Close to the base he reports too monthly.) Either UCSD or San Diego state probably.

OLT: Is there any chance that being a reservist could impact your schooling or plans for the future?

KW: Yeah, but I don’t mind. (He laughed.)

OLT: In what ways could things be impacted?

KW: Well I could have to miss a semester or two for a deployment, or put off plans for projects and home work for when I work weekends.

OLT: Did you have any fear or hesitation about joining in a time of conflict?

KW: No, I wanted to join pretty bad.

OLT: Did your financial situation have anything to do with your decision?

KW: No, but it’s always nice to have a paycheck. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone who joins for that reason either. I do help my family out where I can with the money I make though.

OLT: So for you the decision came down to feeling like it was the best place to be all around. It was a good source of income as well as avenue for personal growth?

KW: Yes, but I wouldn’t say I’m motivated by money. (He laughed.) Otherwise I would have worked somewhere else.

OLT: What is the most important thing you have learned in the military that you could not have learned anywhere else?

KW: You learn not to take things for granted.

OLT: How do you feel about Patriotism?

KW: I think it’s a good thing to a point, as long as people know their beliefs and even if they don’t support a war or conflict they should at least care about who’s there. If it’s something like peacekeeping it would still involve armed conflict against whoever would be instigating the conflict. Not everyone will understand either side of a war. I haven’t been to Afghanistan yet so I can’t necessarily speak on how I feel about being there.

OLT: Would you recommend that someone join the military? If so under what circumstances and why?

KW: Yes and no, someone wanting to join would really have to want it. The training isn’t easy and active duty is hard work. I didn’t choose the reserves to make it easy, I wanted to go to college as well as be a Marine.

OLT: Do you think there is a wrong reason to join?

KW: Well I think joining to try and escape your problems and responsibilities would be a wrong reason. It’s not a last resort, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

To KW being a Marine is more than a job. It is a way of life. The personal gratification and growth offered through his military service was the most influential factor in his decision. In his eyes his military experience is the key to his success and happiness in life.

Perhaps joining the military is a good idea under the right circumstances, with clear ideas about the responsibilities and an understanding of the magnitude of the decision. For those like KW who make a plan and see the military as a part of their journey it is a lifestyle choice more than a means to an end.

“The Only Thing to Do”: Part 1

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As of March 2012, there are just over 1.4 million military personnel reported by the U.S. government. Over one million of them are general enlisted personnel.

General enlistees are often recruited right out of high school or in their early twenties as an alternative to going into a university. The offer can be very attractive for many individuals with the promise of decent wages, job training, and financial aid for further education. Some recruits gladly go into service with patriotic and heritage mentalities, but there are many others who stumble their way into it.

In many ways, the military looks good. Like a batch of cookies fresh out of the oven, tempting even though you know there could be repercussions.

The military offers lodging, great benefits and practical training thus creating an appealing alternative to high priced education and minimum wage jobs. The cherry on top of the military’s already enticing offerings is the promise of adventure and experience. The compilation of practicality, immediacy and hands on training are enough to make many young adults think twice about dismissing the U.S. military as an option.

I know I have thought about it.

A few years ago I found out that my closest friend and another good friend had both decided to enlist in different branches of the reserves. In 2010 my younger friend KW, decided to follow his father’s boot prints and enlist straight out of high school into the U.S. Marine Corps as a reservist, despite a great deal of family friction around his decision. Two months after his return from basic training I found out that LM, my best friend from my own graduating class, had chosen the U.S. Air Force Reserves. It came as no surprise when KW announced the dates of his basic training, but LM’s decision was definitely a shock.

Although I understood the attraction, I was highly interested in their rational. Over the years I have become increasingly interested in how their opinions and ideals have changed from their initial notions about reservist life to the realities they face as a result of that decision. After speaking with them on various occasions it has become clear that the military is not exactly the easy fix it is presented to be.

The boys both chose the Reserves in hopes of getting “the best of both,” military training and perks with the ability to maintain a civilian life and career. Both KW and LM came from families with military background, yet neither family pressured them to follow suite. Although the boys each had individual reason, one major factor in their decision making was a common “need for direction.”

When asked why they chose the military over going straight to college both said it seemed like the only thing to do.

This is not an uncommon response. Over my school career I have met and interacted with many Reservists, Veterans, and Active Duty personnel many of them had a similar response. Some claim that they did not perform well or enjoy school therefore the military seemed perfect. Others reference their financial status at the time of enlistment as a prime motivation. Of the dozens of people I have met over the years very few of them ever claimed Patriotism to be the primary inspiration.

KW’s and LM’s stories represent a common theme, which is why I feel compelled to share their stories.

Bag it. Tax it. Burn It. Capitalism.

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The March 24th broadcast of NPR’s Morning Edition reported the story of an Army Veteran and college student suffering from anxiety, a joint disorder, and frequent severe migraines, whose last resort for relief was medical marijuana. Although not against any state regulations, this student is getting resistance from his university who fears losing federal funding by allowing the use of cannabis on campus, thus violating the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug Free Workplace Act. By allowing Smith and other student patients to use pot, universities are breaking federal law and therefore in danger of losing funding and accreditations.

This can be quite a conundrum for students in pain who receive little to no relief or have adverse side effects to other treatments. The student interviewed by NPR claimed that he would resort to online classes until his campus revised their policy. If his decision is any representation of a common mindset many patients could face the same tough decision between their own healthcare and education.

The solution is simple.

Legalize marijuana consumption, something California has been attempting to do for years.

In 2010 California Proposition 19 failed to do so by a margin less than 5%.  If passed the bill would have legalized and allowed local law enforcement to regulate various marijuana-related activities. The plan also permitted local governments to impose and collect marijuana-related fees and taxes, and revise existing and impose new criminal and civil penalties. It is estimated that state could cash in on billions of dollars in revenue from the passage of the bill, helping their over-indebted state economy.

After this failure in 2010, the debate raged on and supports vowed to regroup and continue the fight hoping to have a new proposition to submit for the 2012 ballot. As the deadly quickly approached, coverage of the great pot debate re-emerged in the pres.

April 20th 2012, the Huffing to Post reported on an economic projection by a Harvard economist that claimed the federal government would save $7.7 billion a year by not having to enforce the standing prohibition and in fact gain some $6 billion in revenue from its taxation.

Despite the preponderance of evidence to support legalization, SF Weekly reported on April 24th 2012 that no measure will be on the California ballot this year. According to the article all four separate committees failed to submit their initiatives by the deadline, ironically 4/20, due to lack of funding and unity.

Federal pressure to subdue the measure was partially accredited to the failure of Prop 19, as well as adding to the current disarray of the movement. However with less than 5%disapproval in a popular vote, the Federal opinion seems only vaguely important to voters. The margin suggests that many voters approve of marijuana legalization, if for no other reason than tapping into a profitable market and ensuring responsible consumption.

Federal resistance to legalizing cannabis is responsible for the issues the Morning Edition report discusses. Universities would not have to turn legal users away and prevent access to schooling for patients who are open about their authorized usage of something many students partake in illegally. Funding would not be cut. No one gets hurt, and everyone has access to the college education of their choice.

Reality check, people smoke pot legal or not.

The current regulations are not going to change that fact. With clear financial benefits both federally and locally, the question has become why continue to ban marijuana while the prohibition of alcohol has been lifted for years.

Most people agree that, cigarettes have been proven to cause major health threats, yet they are a sanctioned and regulated multi-billion dollar industry. Alcohol poses dangers to the individual and society, yet once again consumption is legal. The effects of pot vary like anything else; however there is no solid evidence to suggest that it is in any way more harmful or more dangerous than either of these two substances. In fact, the medicinal uses present a far more beneficial purpose than pure recreation.

So why is marijuana usage so demonized, and why on a federal level?

According to Grass, a documentary film about the history of the herb, the roots of the issue date back to the jazz age and sadly, racism. The cultural attitude toward pot has changed over the years however there have always been proponents. In the last twenty years sentiments have once again shifted towards accepting recreational usage.

This is in large part due to media coverage, which has always helped shape the public mindset. A multitude of documentary films have been made on the subject, exploring the legislation, consumption, distribution and history of marijuana. Technology has also helped to gain support for the legalization cause, as more people have access to information regarding the effects of pot.

A simple answer is that the federal mindset just hasn’t caught up to the changing mentality of the public. After years of Nixon, Reagan and Bush campaigning against “drugs” it’s no secret that conservative values still have deep foot holds in federal regulation.

But wait.

The Republican Party’s historic fiscal conservatism should favor saving a buck, let alone $7.7 billion a year and making $6 billion. Perhaps it is the regulation they take issue with; they would rather cheat the system and not have to pay taxes on their Mary-J.

Economically it doesn’t make sense to continue shunning such profit potential, therefore Federal hesitation must be an issue of morality.

But this is America; we keep morality out of our government.

Ending on a High Note

The end is near!

The end of another demanding school year that is. For some the Spring 2012 semester represents accomplishment, triumph and the end of a long journey towards turning their tassels. For others it marks the anti-climactic culmination of another year’s hard work, dedication and persistence with many more to go.

Even still the end is near and many campuses are ready to celebrate. Early summer is a busy time for students trying to stay focused and hold onto their sanity. Remaining diligent and focused to finish out the school year strongly is no easy task when the air is warm and the pressure is on. Distractions are everywhere, and the increased stress makes students very susceptible to them.

But distractions aren’t all bad. They can be a time to release stress, anger, frustration and regain the motivation needed to continue on.

It seems that many universities would agree that May is a good time for a little celebration and recreation. Many campuses offer end of the year festivities to their weary attendees, staff and alumni.

Student film festivals, art exhibits and gallery openings are a staple on many university campuses. This week the University of California Los Angeles concluded its Shorttakes Student Film Festival which offered screenings of student films and refreshments. Laguna College of Art and Design is opening their MFA Thesis Exhibition this weekend, which will showcase the final projects for all graduating seniors in an array of mediums. The showcase will run from May 19th– June 12.

Some campuses take the festivities further with more ornate experiences.

Friday, May 18th the University of California San Diego held their annual Sun God Festival with music headliners, comedy acts and other performances spread across three different stages. Admission to the event was free for undergrad students and $60 for guests, staff and alumni. As if free admission wasn’t tempting enough, the campus shuttle hours were even extended for the event to promote safe partying habits and easy accessibility for off campus residents.

Cost: high. Educational value: minimal. Morale: high.

From the usual to the extravagant, it seems that educators realize the value of a well-orchestrated disruption from the usual campus stresses.

Zzz’s Are Not in Our Vocabulary

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that college students are sleep deprived. Between cramming, procrastinating, working and the occasional celebratory party, college kids often go days without a solid chunk of time for rest. Although arguably self-inflicted, life as a college student is far from relaxing. Too much work and our brains will literally stop functioning. Too much play and we lose sight of our work. Even when you find a good balance, there is still little time for sleep. And students aren’t the only ones.

You don’t have to look any farther than your local coffee shop to see it. The youths huddled over laptops surrounded by books, papers and a multitude of used cups. Business men racking up points on their gold card. Mothers pushing infants in strollers sipping their fourth skinny latte for the day. We’re tired.

Articles report it. Studies support it. America is sleep deprived.

The LA Times reported on a recent CDC study about our missing Z’s quoting that 30% of American workers are sleep deprived. But curiously enough the actual CDC report goes on to say that:

Among workers in all shifts, workers in the middle age groups of 30–44 years (31.6%) and 45–64 years (31.8%) were significantly more likely than workers aged 18–29 years (26.5%) or ≥65 years (21.7%) to report short sleep duration.

Well that’s weird. This study suggests that 18-29 year olds are not experiencing a lack of sleep. That can’t be right. Everyone I know is over worked, over studied and stretched thinner than the hair we’re losing. Perhaps the study was not thorough enough.

After reading the study, I’m still not sure what demographic sample they took for our age group which could account for the lower numbers. However, it is highly likely that we just don’t report our lack of sleep because it’s nothing to report.

On whole, we can’t afford to sleep. In a society obsessed with time and accomplishments, sleep has become a luxury. Those who don’t have to work multiple jobs can afford to sleep. Sleep is for the rich, or the lazy.

But the working class? Doesn’t stand a chance. Time is money, as the saying goes. Sleep takes up our already too scattered time. If we don’t sleep we can accomplish more. We can have it all and do it all.

For young adults not sleeping is acceptable preferred even. It’s expected. It’s what we do. There is nothing odd about it, nothing unusual and when we are surrounded by our peers we don’t give it a second thought. It’s part of experience the 20’s, right?

In fact I would go so far as to say that the average student spends more on their caffeine addiction than on alcohol each week. Some are so sleepy they turn to their friend’s amphetamines to power through their all-nighters, finals and mountains of essays.

Keeping us awake legally is a multi-million dollar a year industry. Starbucks, Monster, 5-hour Energy from coffee and tea to concentrated pills and tonics caffeine keeps this nation up and running. The prevalence of caffeine isn’t new news. In Jack E. James’s article in the December 1994 edition of the Psychiatric journal Addiction, he discusses the social prevalence of caffeine and discusses its wide acceptance despite being a psychoactive substance (essentially a drug).

With a coffee shop on every corner, shelves stocked with dozens of canned energy elixirs, caffeine pills in the vitamin aisle, it seems that the popularity of caffeine has only increased since James’s study. America is looking for more ways to sleep less and “do” more.

Some researchers say trying to cheat time can have negative effects on the body. We often hear reports of caffeine addiction and the harmful health consequences from over indulging. Articles surface every few weeks about some “latest study” about how sleep effects the body, the mind and society.

But will that stop us? Probably not.

People still smoke. People still drink. And darn it, in our twenties we need our caffeine.

We sure can’t afford the alternative.

From Change in Our Gov. to Change in Our Pockets

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Four seemingly endless years ago I, along with many of my peers, had one of the most important “firsts” in our lives. We walked, drove, skipped and strolled on down to our local polling booth and made our voices count in one of the most historical presidential elections in American history. No matter which way we voted, young adults and minorities set records in voting turnout rates.

The votes were cast and the result was Change. Yes we can America. We proved to the world that the United States is the land of equal opportunity, or so remarked President Obama in his victory address.

Now, on the brink of the 2012 election, it appears that Obama is once again relying on young voters need for change. Only this time, he is talking about the lack of change in our  banks.

In his visit to the University of North Carolina last Tuesday, Obama urged college students speak out against the proposed interest rate increase on student loans. His message was simple “Don’t double my rate.” He is compelling students everywhere to post it, share it, like it, tweet it, stand up on our soap boxes and shout it to whoever will listen. We need to spark the change we wish to see.

One thing caught me off guard however about Obama’s atypical rally-the-youth address, his comments regarding his own personal student loan tribulations. Presumably this was another signature “common man” appeal to gain an edge over his competition as Oliver Knox points out in his Yahoo! News piece. However, it made me wonder.

Let’s do some math here.

Obama claims that he was still paying off student loans eight years ago.

He has served four years in office to date, and is currently 51 years old.

That means that at 43 years old and four years away from becoming the President of the United States, he was still in debt due to his education.

Hearing that our nation’s leader was still in debt from his student loans until four years before he ran for office is a little unnerving.

Let’s face it. Most of us will never become the president of the United States. Nor will the majority of us rise to similar power, fame or other grandeur. If a United States Senator is still paying off his student loans while serving their term, I hold little hope for those of us who are simply looking to carve out a simple house in the stones.

Not to mention that Obama graduated in a booming economic climate ripe with opportunity, when a college education cost less and could take you further.

The reality is that most of us will graduate in debt with no way to pay back the loans that were supposed to be an investment in our future.

This year we look to the one man who promised us change, yet he brushes passed, looks back and says do our begging elsewhere.

Where is our change?

It’s not in my pocket and it not in my government.

Some things never change.

Coco vs. Coacho

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A friend and fellow UCSD student posted her conundrum to the world via Facebook last weekend, asking the world which they would chose if they had the chance to meet Conan O’Brien or tickets to the Coachella music festival. Of the comments made on the status, the majority of them said Coachella, which was ultimately the decision this friend made. It struck me that this type of community-poll decision has become the modern equivalent of flipping a coin when it comes to decision making, having little to do with being a lemming or wanting peer approval. It is an act of desperation.

In life we are often presented with choices. Making those choices is a complex balance of rationality and sentiment. There is what we should do, what we want to do, and what will benefit us the most. We make them every day. Some choose to be students, to go to class or skip, to take out loans, to work two jobs, to major, to minor, to grab coffee or beer. Clearly students are intimately familiar with making decisions but the majority of students don’t really know how.

As students we tend to put the “what we should do’s” first, in hopes that eventually when the last essay is written and we are shaking the dean’s hand that we will finally have time for the “what we want.” Once in a while as students we are presented by our high-priced educational institutions with an opportunity to combine the two. When a renowned guest speaker agrees to hold a free Q&A session at your University, the excitement amongst your peers is palpable. In this case what we “should do” and “want to do” is run down and get out tickets to jump aboard the “Coco” loco.

However, what happens when the highly anticipated Conan O’Brien appearance coincides with one of the largest music festivals of the year, Coachella? Suddenly the buzz about who’s playing what stage on what day is all around, drowning out the awestruck applause for our beloved “Coco.”  There is a choice to be made, Conan O’Brien or three days at one of the largest modern music festivals.

Some perspective: your best friends are each begging you to go with them, one a huge O’Brien fan, the other desperately devoted to the band you two bonded over at orientation your first year. You could definitely use the mid-quarter escape, and there are no midterms that week to study for, which is a first in more quarters than you can remember. Timing could not be more perfect! What do you do? With two amazing opportunities presented to you, how do you choose?

Students pride themselves on their multitasking  abilities, their procrastination skills, and their powers of persuasive tears but when it comes down to it how do we deal with the decisions we face every day? We are conditioned to rationally weigh our options with the same intellectual rigor we have learned through-out our educational career. We carefully examine the evidence, consider the testimonies of our peers, and rationalize each course of action, all in a frantic attempt to formulate the answer.

Coachella is annual and how many chances in our life are we going to have to meet Conan O’Brien? The cost of tickets is comparable to two weeks’ worth of groceries. But there is that band playing that song you can’t get out of your head this week. You know that either way you will be missing out.

Emotionally we are knee deep in turmoil looking for excuses to make our decisions for us. “I should study anyway, get ahead.” “I shouldn’t spend the money.” “Shoot, it’s too late to ask for the week off from work I definitely shouldn’t go to Coachella.” “This could be my chance to network with Conan O’Brien!” “I only like that one band, and their playing on the third day anyway.” Whatever the rational, sometimes our logical minds don’t match up with our hearts.

No matter how hard we try, this is not another multiple choice exam with a surgically accurate distinction between the right and wrong answer. No matter which way we analyses it there is no universal answer. There is choice, something that we as individuals are unprepared for.

Trained to think, observe, and analyze, when it comes down to making a decision we are often inept. We second guess and rationalize ourselves in circles all because through the education system we have only ever been taught to think. This is not to imply that a rational approach is not effective in decision making, simply to convey a greater crisis at hand in the educational system. Some may argue that we don’t think enough about the consequences of our actions, or the long term effects. Perhaps it is not that we do not think, it is that we think too much, with less opportunity to refine more real world skills.

In many public universities students never learn how to “do.” Many students in the University of California system complain about a lack of emphasis on application in their major programs, noting the primary focus in the majority of courses is theory based with little time for practical application of those theories; at the very least little practical application in the field. Nine out of ten University of California San Diego undergrads, in non-scientific fields, claim that they feel they have had little to no opportunity to apply what they have learned in an everyday manner. There is a growing majority who feel nervous or lost upon graduating with their BA because they “don’t know what to do next.” We are unprepared.

What then are we learning? If not to make decisions, not how to “do”, what do these educational systems have to offer?

Theoretical classes are easy to teach and easy to fill especially when made Major requirements or prerequisites  for an “Advanced Topic” which if we are lucky will delve deep enough into a topic to become even remotely practical and applicable outside of a collegiate setting. From personal experience, and that of my peers, there are only a handful of “hands-on” classes offered in the Communications program, most of them in media areas of study. This is great for those students with an interest in media, but for those who have other interest their classes are far more theoretical and perception based, as is the Communications program as a whole.

Blame it on tenure. Blame the professors. Blame the state. Blame the government. Blame the 1%. Blame who ever, but the fact remains that with highly impacted schools, over-crowding, and a major lack of funding the California Education system is failing its students on even basic levels.Our education is leaving us unprepared to enter the highly competitive workforce with large debts to pay and limited training.
This post was inspired and influenced by:
Education Prices
http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2009/11/is-a-26000-university-of-california-education-a-deal.html

Decision Making
http://http-server.carleton.ca/~aramirez/4406/BookReviews/Scott.pdf

“Active learning”
http://www.texascollaborative.org/activelearning.htm