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Student Veteran Embraces Change and Finds Future in Politics



November 12, 2018

United States Marine Corps veteran and senior political science major John Brooks shared his path to Drexel and how he’s giving back to veterans in the Philadelphia community. Here’s his story in his own words, as told to staff writer Kylie Gray.

    Drexel Political Science Student and US Marine Corps Veteran John Brooks     
Political science major John Brooks has completed four IRONMAN 70.3 triathlons.

In 1999, I dropped out of college after one semester and needed to make a change in my life. I was a young person full of fear of the unknown. I found myself drawn to the Marine Corps — not only because my father was a Marine, but also because I thought the training and discipline would take that fear away from me.

I was part of the U.S. Marine Corps for nine years and deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. My time in the military was difficult, but fulfilling. I learned a lot about human potential. When you’re trying to achieve something, whether physically or mentally, your mind starts telling you at some point that you’re not capable of going any further. We learned that, at that stage, you’ve only really accomplished about 40 percent of your potential. It was a revelation, realizing how quickly we give up. It helped me see how irrational fear can be and how much more we’re capable of accomplishing.

When I left the Marine Corps in 2008, I went into business with two of my cousins. We started a successful company that dealt in radiation protection for cancer treatment.

A defining moment came for me during the 2016 presidential election. Like many, I was drawn more to politics and began to think about how I could get involved. Around that time, a friend also showed me a story — a fable, basically — called “Who Moved My Cheese?” It encouraged openness to change, and one line really resonated with me: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

That message, along with the cancer diagnosis of a close family member, reminded me that tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. It was the push I needed to go back to school and pursue the degree I had bypassed years before.

Applying to Drexel University at my age, and then to the Honors College, I had to quit my job and overcome fear. A big reason that I chose Drexel was its participation in the GI Bill’s Yellow Ribbon Program. Christopher Young, the associate director of transfer admissions and veteran affairs, was a huge advocate for me in navigating the enrollment and financial process at Drexel, as were Bryant Morris and Tiffany McKeaney from Drexel Central.

It can be challenging reentering college later in life, after the experiences I’ve had. Even now, I sometimes wonder where I fit in. I often relate more easily to professors than my fellow students, though students have helped me feel like I truly belong. I’ve realized that, at the end of the day, what matters is that I’m doing something to better myself and help others.

I’m currently a mentor to eight people in the Philadelphia Veterans Court. It’s a specialty court that invites staff from the VA hospital, the Department of Behavioral Health, Drexel’s New Beginnings program, and five or six other veterans service organizations into the courtroom. Veterans charged with crimes receive treatment, counseling and mentorship under the direction of Judge Patrick Dugan. If they make it through the program, their criminal records are expunged.

For many, their problems — from DUIs to drug charges and violent crimes — can be sourced back to their time in the military. I try to share what I’ve learned about overcoming obstacles. Not everyone is going to accept our help the same way, but as veterans, we have a better chance of getting through because we relate to each other.

In 2019, I’ll graduate with my degree in political science and minor in philosophy from Drexel. My next step is law school. Ultimately, I want to work in politics and influence laws, so that foundational knowledge is important.

The Marines are one part of my human experience; I was also shaped by my family, friends, teachers and my own experiences. All of these elements have led me to embrace challenges as opportunities. I live by the quote, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is waiting for you on the other side of fear.”

Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences thanks all of those who have served in our military. For more information about Drexel resources for student veterans, please visit the Office of Veteran Student Services.