In the home stretch: UNO senior reflects on campus changes

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My college career is almost over.

That seems strange to say, now that it’s actually happening and graduation looms over my head like a giant paper Sword of Damocles. But there it is – after four years of study, toil, late nights and little sleep, I’ll finally be able to add a few letters to my resume and claim to know a bunch of stuff I didn’t before I started.

Why does it feel so strange for me to have this momentous occasion fast approaching? Well you see, I’m one of UNO’s many non-traditional students. Like many of my kind, I’ve got to strike that elusive balance between taking care of a family, squeezing in as many classes as possible and bringing in enough money to put food on the table. I don’t live on campus; that’s not really an option for anyone with a family, so getting to classes has always meant a ten to 20 minute commute. Yes, despite what some in the UNO hierarchy seem to believe, this college remains, and always will be, largely a commuter campus.

In 2010 I was just another Air Force retiree, at the time living in Upstate New York and trying to make ends meet working full time for not very much pay. The economy hasn’t been kind to many veterans – most of us have struggled to find work that pays well, and that makes it hard when you’ve got a family to feed. My time in the Air Force left me with a bunch of skills that were at best hard to translate into civilian-speak, also a common problem for veterans.

So when the Post-911 GI Bill was passed, I jumped at the chance. It took the old GI Bill, which I’d signed up under way back in 1986, back closer to its original intent and purpose. Here’s a brief history lesson, for those who don’t remember. After World War II, as now, we had a lot of veterans coming home and not finding too many opportunities waiting for them. Legislators at the time decided repeating the mistakes made after World War I (Google “Bonus Army” for more details) wasn’t really a good idea. So they created a law that would enable any veteran who wanted to go to college and have his entire tuition paid for by the government.

In the years between WWII and today, that benefit (like so many others) had been watered down to the point of being almost useless. By the time I signed up, it had gone from a full ride scholarship, to barely paying for a semester or two (if you were extremely lucky). The Post-911 GI Bill restored it to its former purpose, at least mostly. It pays for half of tuition at a state-run university or college, and if your school participates in something called the Yellow Ribbon program, as UNO does, that covers the rest. Plus, a veteran who qualifies can get a housing allowance appropriate to the geographic location of the school on top of it. Vets also get a book allowance every semester as well.

All this goes a long way toward enabling veterans to re-enter the work force as the leaders and builders of tomorrow. And while it doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay entirely off student loans, it does go a long way toward minimizing the damage.

So that’s where I am today. About to graduate, in the race toward the finish, and as we sometimes say in the Air Force, busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

It’s been a fun ride. I’ve had a lot of classes I thoroughly enjoyed, and met a lot of professors and fellow students I’ll be keeping in touch with well after leaving college life. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. I’ve learned a lot in my four years, and will, gods willing, continue to learn stuff. Because the day you stop learning is the day you stop growing.

I’ve seen a lot of change in my college time. Back in 2010 when I started, tablets weren’t a common sight on campus. People favored laptops. Today, nearly everyone has one (or both). Online classes weren’t the “thing” they are now. They were available, to those who wanted them, but classroom learning was still the major source of wisdom. This semester, half my classes are online, and in one of those I’m the sole student, the test subject for a course in development. Incoming freshmen can look forward to taking most, if not all, of their classes through distance learning if they want, freeing up their days for full time work or study. As technology grows, so will we.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got more studying to do. The one-legged man needs to get back to work.

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