Holy hot moly. Some way, somehow, with some grit, determination, and a whole lot of help I graduated from the US Coast Guard Academy. I took the long way around, so to speak, but I made it nonetheless. Last Wednesday I walked across the stage to receive a BS in Marine and Environmental Science, and an Officer’s Commission to the Coast Guard. While it is all still settling in, it is undoubtedly one of my greatest achievements yet.

First of all, I never would have made it through without the incredible support of so many different people. Some were there for the entire ride, others hopped on and off as life ebbed and flowed. In either capacity, their impact was invaluable. In some cases, the support that I received was not as clearly positive as you might think. In my high school yearbook, a friend signed with the quote “Reid, I know you will reach for the stars… but maybe you should reach for the low ones, so it doesn’t hurt as bad when you fall.” I fell alright. Lots of times. The worst was the outright tumbling faceplant of receiving a letter of disenrollment after my first semester. That experience and many others of my own doing forced me to reach deep down, first find the bootstraps, and then haul them back up to do what needed doing.

While there were plenty of trips, I had some pretty cool successes too. I was the first cadet to earn the Distinguished Rifleman’s Badge (#99 in the history of the CG program). I was a part of the team that worked to establish, research, write the policy, and operate the CG’s first social media response efforts in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Michael, and Florence. That team was also the recipient of the CG’s service-wide 2018 Cultural Innovation Award. I received training to be a part of suicide intervention teams and later was certified to teach LivingWorks suicide alertness classes. While there were some others, these few are what I hope will define my Academy career.

Finally, there is the whole family of people that the Academy brought to me. We have been scattered to the seven seas. But the kinds of friendships that the Academy creates are the forever kind—the types unphased by a year or two apart.

Graduation brought the obvious question: Did you enjoy it? The best answer I have is that I cannot imagine who I would be without the time that I spent at CGA; I would not be who I am today, with the friends and memories that I cherish so dearly. Go graduation. Go 2019. Forever, go bears!