The chance to finish college is the fulfillment of a decade-long promise of political science major Travis Hardy.
“When I first left college, I promised my father that I was going to graduate,” he said. “I’m going to finish school, no matter how long it takes. I like to be known as someone who keeps his word.”
Hardy, 32, said he chose USF to escape the New Jersey cold. But he’s also here because of USF’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program. This is the next stage in his decade-long career as a Marine.
Immediately after graduating from High School, Hardy entered the Advanced Military Academy at Norwich University in Vermont. But two years later, he found himself unable to accept the amount of debt he took on for participating. The children of military families have long known that they want to join the army, but they decided to join the army before they graduated.
His father, Jerry Hardy, said he never doubted his son’s commitment.
“Travis always tells the truth, he’s a man of his word,” Jerry said. “It didn’t matter to his mother and me when he was done. The Marines made it possible for him to deliver on his promise to us sooner rather than later.”
After attending boot camp in August 2011, Hardy went to Infantry School at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. Now battle-ready, he got his first job at 1st Battalion, 5th Marines at Camp Pendleton, California.
“I didn’t do much in my first year in the fleet,” Hardy said. “It was just triggering and learning leadership before I deployed.”
Joining the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit gave Hardy the opportunity to travel across the South Pacific, including Thailand, Japan and the Philippines.
Returning to the United States with new experience, he was first promoted from gunner to captain and went on to be promoted to corporal with spears.
Hardy was again taken to Darwin, Australia, when he joined the Marine Corps – where crocodiles outnumbered the population. But he said his greatest culture shock came from his time in combat deployments in the Middle East.
“Wherever I go, I always have an ‘I’m not in Kansas’ moment,” he said. “In Thailand, you can’t talk about the royal family without being arrested. The Middle East feels like a whole different world, with so different cultures and belief systems.”
Although he’s back in the US, he’s now facing a new kind of culture shock — going back to college.
After serving as an exercise instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina, Hardy was selected as one of 50 Marines in the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program. After being selected, he went to Officer Candidate School and upon graduation had the opportunity to apply to any university with an NROTC program.
“It’s a big shift,” Hardy said. “I just came out of the rig, so I’m used to being sharp and aggressive all the time. I’m also ten years older than 99% of my classmates.”
Hardy remains an active Marine while carrying a full course load and participating in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. But he said his real-world experience helped put the school in perspective.
“When I was an 18-year-old in Norwich, I hated it. I had no interest,” he said. “At 32 now, going to college feels easy. I’ve learned that if you manage your time the right way, it won’t affect your life.”
Guns Sergeant Geovanie Maldonado observed Hardy’s involvement in NROTC and his contributions to all areas of the field. He said Hardy’s work ethic was an important asset in the program’s success.
“He’s someone I can always count on,” Maldonado said. “He volunteered his personal time and has always provided guidance and assistance to all the young students in our program. In the absence of leadership, you can always look to Travis to fill that void.”
After graduation, Hardy plans to use his degree to enter politics. For now, though, he hopes to inspire his classmates to think critically and encourage dialogue.
“We are human beings and we are all different,” he said. “You can put 10 people in a room and there will be 20 different opinions. I think I bring a whole new perspective and it shows that sometimes what you learn is not what actually happens in the world. I actually On already around the world, these experiences can be shared.
“Even though we disagree, I want people to end the conversation with a better understanding of where someone is coming from.”