Alumni Essay: Ben Metcalf, '04 (Political Science Minor)
I majored in economics with a minor in political science. While at Whitworth I was the Outdoor Recreation Coordinator and my senior year was the ASWC President. I also studied abroad for a month my sophomore summer in the Netherlands, traveled through Central America during a Jan Term with my roommate, and had the opportunity to represent the college at two student symposiums held at the Air Force Academy and at West Point. These travels and experiences were the most valuable times of my college career, not only did they expand my worldview but also enabled me to network with fellow students who shared similar goals and with future employers. A strong résumé is key, but without knowing people who are or have done what you want to do makes for an uphill struggle. My greatest regret during college was not doing an extended study abroad for a semester or better yet, a whole academic year. As St. Augustine so aptly said, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." If you have the chance to travel or study abroad do not pass it up! And when you travel, check your preconceived notions of life at the gate; be prepared for lost baggage, new friends and a new world.
Upon graduation from Whitworth in the spring of 2004 I headed East to Pensacola, Fla., to begin Officer Candidate School with the Navy. After receiving my commission as an officer, I spent six months at Supply Corps School and then left for a year to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean working as a supply officer for military cargo ships. I now have two years left on my commitment and am currently serving as the Assistant Supply Officer to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Forty, also known as the Seabees.
I joined the military out of a sense of patriotic duty. Since joining I have traveled to Japan, Singapore, Guam, Diego Garcia, Greece, the Balkans and soon will be deployed for six months to Kuwait. Some of that travel was on personal leave and some was in an official duty status. I enjoy traveling in dusty sandals much more than in uniform, because when you travel in the military you do not have the same ability to assimilate with the local people. Regardless, the exposure to different cultures has been wonderful.
The military is a good way to pay for school and as a career will give you more responsibility quicker than you would normally find in the civilian world. I originally enrolled in a Reserve Officer Training Course at University of Colorado and upon my transfer to Whitworth picked up an alternative program to receive a commission the beginning of my junior year called the Baccalaureate Degree Completion Program. If you are interested in becoming an officer I would highly recommend the latter program as it offers more freedom during your college years, the downside is that you do not begin receiving tuition assistance until your junior year.
If you want to serve your country, the military is an extremely honorable choice; however, there are many other options equally as honorable and worthwhile, Amricorps and Teach for America to mention a few. If you do choose to join the military realize that it is not just a job, but it is a lifestyle, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You will not find the same community as there is at Whitworth. Whereever you go you will represent the United States government and all of its policies and actions. This is something I did not consider before joining but wish I would have.
In the military, bold, independent thinking is not a part of the job description. And the world is in dire need of brave and bold independent thinkers to help solve the looming environmental and political crises, especially the rapidly depleting water tables and the on-going genocide in Darfur. On a personal level, my greatest struggle in the military, as well as that for many of my fellow junior officers is how hard the transient lifestyle is on family and on developing good healthy relationships. lthough moving around and "seeing the world" was initially very attractive, a sense of rootlessness quickly developed, in large part due to the difficulty in finding and developing a deeper sense of community.
Once I get out, I plan on going to graduate school to study international politics and then using my degree and experience in the military as a platform to launch me into the field of humanitarian aid. However, I have also been very intentional at maintaining the connections I made during college and the ones I have sought out and cultivated since college with people who are in that field of work.
As you decide on a school to attend or as you look forward to graduation, actively put yourself in a position to network and gain experience in the fields that interest you. If you do not pursue your passions, your work will be merely a means to a paycheck. Don't let the costs of College and or travels scare you, if you must take loans, DO! View them not as financial burdens that must be repaid but as investments in your future. A point I cannot stress enough is that the education in life you pursue outside the classroom is as important as your education inside the classroom. Time spent volunteering, traveling, fellowshipping with friends, attending church and late Friday nights solving the problems of the world will contribute to your future success just as much as the term paper or the last minute cram session before an important test.
Many people have gone before you, but that does not mean that you must or can emulate them step for step. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, "Traveler, there is no path, paths are made by walking." Realize the star of your dreams and find your own way towards it.
Finally, if I can give any advice for while you are at Whitworth it is this, develop relationships with your professors, they will help you and challenge you to step out of your comfort zone, both intellectually and spiritually, because it is only then that we begin to learn.