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Winning Essays 2013 > Ignacio


Winning Essay: Ignacio J. Zamarripa

Why a Degree? Third World Inspiration. 

IgnacioEvery college student has a reason for wanting a college degree. While some may do it for pride and tradition, others may do it for the desire of a better life. Myself on the other hand, I simply want it because of the easy access to education here in the United States. I know this may seem like a very simple and thoughtless answer to such a deep question, however, there is reason behind my simplistic point of view. Being an offspring of my parents and a member of a traditional Mexican-American family, we have no college tradition, alumni, or alma mater. Most members of my family would consider themselves lucky to have their high school diploma, much less a college degree. My inspiration for a higher education came from several thousands of miles away in a third world country called Iraq.

After working a series of odd jobs throughout my late teens and early twenties, I enlisted in the United States Army in hope of finding an occupation worthy of making a career. Although volunteering for service as an infantryman during two active wars was a one way ticket to the middle-east, I carried no worries about the rough road that lay ahead. After 16 grueling weeks of basic training, I arrived at my unit motivated just as any young soldier should be. I always did an excellent job and moved up the ranks quite quickly. After over a year of what seemed like non-stop training, my unit was finally called for a tour of duty. Words cannot explain the excitement and thrill of going to war as an infantryman. I was sure that I had found my calling and the occupation that I would one day hopefully retire from. 

My unit was sent to a medium sized city called Ramadi. Although Ramadi was only the third largest city in the country, it was well known for its violence and danger (especially against American troops). My company was assigned to the Anbar Province Police Directory, which was basically the police headquarters of the largest and most dangerous province in the country of Iraq. Needless to say, with such tight living quarters and limited access to the outside world, we began to make friends with several of the Iraqi police whom we shared the camp with. While I found every Iraqi national to be very nice and friendly, there was one who stood out to me more than the rest. His name was Hakam, and at just 24 he had probably seen more violence and terror in his life than all of us “soldiers” combined.

Over the months, Hakam and I became very good friends. It’s truly amazing how much you can have in common with somebody whom you’ve never met and lives half way around the world. Although we often had trouble communicating, I never let the language barrier come between what I consider to be one of my most meaningful relationships. One day during our usual endless conversations, Hakam asked the question “why are you in the Army instead of college?” “Who needs college? We live in America and in America, you don’t need college to be successful.” I replied. I could tell by his look of discontent that he was not at all happy with my answer. He went on to tell me of his dreams of one day coming to America and earning a college degree. To him, earning a degree wasn’t about pride, tradition, or Alma Mater. To Hakam, getting a higher education was about achieving the unattainable, it was about bettering himself as a person, and it was about having the title of someone who was better and smarter than most people in the world.

When I was seven months into my yearlong tour of duty, it was time for me to take a break and enjoy some much needed R&R. After only two short weeks of a stateside vacation, I was back on my way to the great city of Ramadi. I remember the first morning back I went on shift and assumed duty at my guard station. After a few friendly “welcome backs” from my fellow soldiers and Iraqi nationals, I asked the sergeant in charge about the whereabouts of Hakam. It was at that time he informed me that Hakam was killed in an attack while I was on leave. Words cannot explain the sorrow and guilt that followed me for the rest of my deployment. Hakam was a very nice young man with a young wife and child. Although this was not my first experience with death, I still took his passing very hard. 

Two deployments and six years of active service later, I finally separated from the military. After all that I had been through and all that I had experienced, I was now left with the burden of finding another career and source of income for my new wife and child. But for me, the answer was simple; get an education! For people like my friend Hakam, education doesn’t come easy. Going to college isn’t always as easy as filling out the financial aid forms and enrolling in a school of your choice. For some people, going to college is an unattainable dream that will never come true. But for us U.S citizens, it is that easy.  That’s why I have chosen to take advantage of every single opportunity that is available to me. That is why I want a degree from Northwest Vista College.