University professor, father of a U.S. Marine

John Kilbourne

Toward the end of his junior year in high school, my son made the decision to join the Armed Forces of the United States. Because of his love of everything water, his mother, also a university professor, and I thought he would choose the United States Navy or Coast Guard. To our surprise he chose the United States Marine Corp. He told us that of all of the branches of the armed forces, the U.S. Marine Corp is by far the most challenging and demanding.

Having our son volunteer to join the United States Marine Corp is not the typical path for children of university professors. After all, we have dedicated most of our adult lives to higher education and it seems only logical that our son would follow our paths. Since our son made his decision, we have found ourselves continually having to defend his choice to colleagues, family and friends.

Other than his success on the soccer field and his four years studying Design, Drafting and Technology, high school offered our son very little. Like many young men, our son is an active, hands-on learner. To our great delight, he did officially graduate from high school. To this day I have never asked to see his final report card from his senior year.

During the summer between his junior and senior years of high school, our son took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test and the Physical Fitness Test. On both tests, he scored at the very top. His high scores allowed him to have his choice of Military Occupational Specialties (MOS). He selected Marine Aerial Navigator.

On August 17, 2014, he departed from Michigan to the Marine Corp Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. For the next thirteen weeks our only contact with our son was through written letters. To read about the mental and physical challenges he was enduring, the camaraderie between he and his fellow recruits and his genuine and authentic excitement brought tears to our eyes.

In mid-November, we traveled to San Diego to witness his graduation from MCRD. The son we said goodbye to in August was transformed. He was now a United States Marine, “Semper Fidelis, always faithful; faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps and to country, no matter what.” Our son’s faithfulness was challenged at all times; in classroom exams, during meals, in how he dressed, kept his barracks, while marching, firing rifles, even while using the toilet. Upon graduation, his mother and I have never been more proud of our son.

Starting this new semester, I cannot help but think about our son and the many lessons he endured and then shared. Like his, my life has been transformed as well. As I look into the faces of my students, especially some of the young men his age, a few seem lost, not totally comfortable with why they are at the university. I have noticed this in years past. This year it seems much more obvious. I also think about the extraordinary efforts this university and many others put forward to helicopter (oversee, hand-hold) students. I wonder if we are doing our students a disservice by not allowing them to be more faithful to their mission at hand, to each other, to the future of our country, no matter what. As our son and all of his fellow Marines demonstrated to his university professor parents, if challenged, young men and women his age are capable of extraordinary actions, both mental and physical.

John Kilbourne, Ph.D. is a professor of Movement Science at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.