The opportunity to finish college is the fulfillment of a decade-old promise for political science major Travis Hardy.
“When I left college the first time, I made a promise to my dad that I was going to graduate,” he said. “I was going to finish school, no matter how long it took. I like to be known as a man of my word.”
Hardy, 32, said he chose USF as a desire to escape the New Jersey cold. But he’s also here because of USF’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program. It’s the next stage of his decadelong career as a member of the Marine Corps.
Hardy enrolled at Senior Military College Norwich University in Vermont immediately after high school. But after two years, he found himself unable to reconcile with the amount of debt he was taking on by attending. A child of a military family, he already knew that he wanted to enlist, but decided to join before finishing his degree.
His father, Jerry Hardy, said he never doubted the promise his son made.
“Travis has always told the truth, he’s a man of his word,” Jerry said. “It never mattered to his mother and me when he finished. The Marine Corps made it possible for him to keep his promise to us sooner rather than later.”
After attending boot camp in August 2011, Hardy went to the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. Now combat ready, he got his first duty station at 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in Camp Pendleton, California.
“My first year in the fleet I didn’t do much,” Hardy said. “It was just pulling triggers and learning leadership until 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 back to the states with new experience, he received his first major promotion from gunner to a team leader, and continued moving up the ranks to become a lance corporal.
Hardy was once again taken overseas to Darwin, Australia, when he joined the Marine Rotational Forces — where crocodiles outnumber people. But he says his biggest culture shock came from his time of combat deployment in the Middle East.
“Everywhere I went always had a ‘I’m not in Kansas anymore’ moment,” he said. “In Thailand, you can’t talk about the royal family without being arrested. The Middle East can feel like a whole other world, the culture and belief system is so different.”
Although he is back on U.S. soil, he now faces a new culture shock — the return to a college campus.
After serving as a drill instructor at Parris Island in South Carolina, Hardy was chosen as one of 50 marines for the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program. After being selected, he went to Officer Candidate School, and after graduating was given the opportunity to apply to any university with an NROTC program.
“It’s been a big shift,” Hardy said. “I had just come from the drill field, so I was used to being abrasive and aggressive all the time. I’m also a decade older than 99% of my classmates.”
Hardy remains an active Marine while taking a full course load, as well as being involved with the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. But he says his real world experience has helped put school in perspective.
“When I was an 18-year-old kid at Norwich, I hated it. I had no interest,” he said. “Now at 32, college feels easy. I’ve come to the understanding that if you manage your time the right way, it won’t run your life.”
Gunnery Sgt. Geovanie Maldonado has watched Hardy’s involvement with the NROTC and the way he contributes in all areas of the field. He said Hardy’s work ethic is a major asset to the program’s success.
“He’s someone I can always rely on,” Maldonado said. “He volunteers his personal time and is always mentoring and providing assistance to all of the younger students in our programs. In the absence of leadership, you can always expect Travis to fill that gap.”
After graduation, Hardy plans to use his degree to move to the world of politics. For now though, he hopes to inspire his classmates to think critically and encourage conversation.
“We’re human beings, we’re all different,” he said. “You can put 10 people in a room and there will be 20 differing opinions. I think I bring a fresh perspective that shows that sometimes what you’ve been taught isn’t what is actually going on in the world. I’ve actually been around the world and can share those experiences.
“Even if we can’t see eye to eye, I want people to walk away from a conversation with more understanding about where someone is coming from.”