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“My family has a tradition of Marine Corps service, going

all the way back to before World War I,” he says. “A male member of my family has served in every war since that point. Even my grandmother was in the Marines.” Conlan actually spent a year at Loyola after graduating

from high school in 2008, only to realize he wasn’t quite ready to be a college student. He decided to do what gen- erations of Conlans had done before him: join the Marines. Conlan tested into the highly selective Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where he spent more than a year in a full-immersion program to become fluent in Arabic—a language he had never spoken before enlist- ing. He then became a cryptologic linguist, complete with security clearance, and translated foreign communications. Shortly after starting his new position, Conlan started

having epileptic seizures. He went through a battery of tests to determine what was triggering them. Illness, stress, and a lack of sleep were all found to bring about episodes. Doctors declared Conlan physically unfit for active duty, and he received a medical discharge in 2012. His military career was over. Conlan, who manages his epilepsy with medication and

proper rest, decided to give college another try. He en- rolled at Loyola as a sophomore a few months after leaving the Marines, and he is seeking a double major in classical civilization and women’s and gender studies. He’s also taking courses to get a minor in entrepreneurship. While the academic side of Conlan’s return to college has gone smoothly, the social side has been challenging at times. “I do feel socially disconnected from the other students

sometimes,” says Conlan, who lives off campus in a Rogers Park apartment. “There’s a huge gap between an 18-year- old and a 23-year-old. It’s tough. . .. Believe me, my younger friends constantly remind me of my age.” Conlan has joined a fraternity and is active in other or-

ganizations. He helps run the Student Veterans Association at Loyola with his friend, Daniel Serra. Conlan aspires to someday become a university professor, but first, he’d like to work for a nonprofit or join the Peace Corps. “Service is incredibly important to me,” he says, “and

since I can’t serve in the military any more, I’d like to find another way to help people.”


The son of a Brazilian father and an American mother,

Serra grew up overseas and spent most of his childhood in South America and Europe. But he always pictured himself in a US military uniform. Ten years ago, Serra walked into a Marine recruiting

station a few days after coming to the United States. He enlisted in the military within a year. He served four years of active duty, working as a supply

clerk at the Marine base in Twentynine Palms, California, for a year and a half before shipping out to Iraq and fighting in the final stages of the Battle of Fallujah. He was eventually transferred to a base in Okinawa, Japan, and after a little more than a year on friendly soil, he was sent back to Iraq. Serra left active duty in 2008. He moved to Chicago, joined the reserves, and started

thinking about his future. After attending Harold Washing- ton College for a few semesters, Serra transferred to Loyola in the fall of 2011 and immediately dove into the role of full-time student. “I take my grades and classroom time very seriously

because of my time in the military,” says Serra, who is on track to graduate in May with a biology degree. “In the Marine Corps, there is never an excuse. Your work needs to be completed on time. I spent more than a year in Iraq, and my education is something I fought very hard for—liter- ally—so I’m not going to squander it away.” At Loyola, Serra helps run the Student Veterans As-

sociation and serves as an advocate for veterans’ issues on campus. “We’re regular people, but some of us are dealing with some pretty serious issues,” he says. Serra has post-traumatic stress disorder and uses a

service dog to help calm him down when he’s feeling stressed out. He hopes his work with the Student Veterans Association will help new veterans make the same success- ful transition he’s made. In the meantime, he’ll continue studying and working

toward his degree, and he’s considering getting a master’s degree after he graduates.

WINTER 2014 23

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