Day by day, thousands of students walk across campus never wondering who the person next to them might be. Chris DeLeon, a 36-year-old veteran, walks the sidewalks of Colorado Mesa University with pride.
DeLeon is not an ordinary non-traditional student. DeLeon joined the army at the age of 30 and six years later, he decided it was time for him to start a new chapter in his life. After high school, DeLeon went straight into the workforce. He also got married and had a child at a very young age. DeLeon explained had he gone straight to college out of high school, he would not have been sure of what to do with his life.
“I had been spinning my wheels in life and I basically wasted a decade of my life in the 20’s and I realized I needed to do something different. I had always been very patriotic and just kind of felt guilty for not having served,” DeLeon said.
After a six year stint in the army DeLeon became the leader for his group in the military. He is now an exercise science major and his goal is to become a physical therapist. He would like to enroll in a graduate program for physical therapy in Denver.
“It can be difficult [to be a student] because sometimes you get really liberal professors and a lot of them are liberal in their views, and you just have to sit there and take it because it is just not worth the battle,” DeLeon said.
Coming back to school as a veteran can be very hard because veterans go through so much. Returning to their normal civilian life can cause them to feel isolated. Even though there are a lot of people who support the military, for a person who has been deployed, it may be hard to see that. Having the veteran’s lounge on campus is helpful for many veteran students because it provides them with a space in which they feel safe.
“It’s hard coming home from deployment and being around a bunch of people that don’t get it,” DeLeon said. “There is really no way to explain the damage in a way that they could get it without them actually being there.”
DeLeon waited to come to college, but because of his life experiences, he now knows what he wants to do with his life.
“I wouldn’t trade my military experiences for anything, but I would definitely do it differently. If I could go back, I would still delay college, but not near as long,” DeLeon said “I would have joined the military right out of high school. I would have gone and done all my service and had a longer contract because I wouldn’t have had a child to make me decide okay, it’s time for me to just be home.”