The opportunity to finish college is the fulfillment of a decades-old promise for political scientist Travis Hardy.
“When I first left college, I promised my father I would graduate,” he said. “I wanted to finish school, no matter how long it took. I like being known as a man of my word.”
Hardy, 32, said he chose USF to escape the New Jersey cold. But he’s also here for the USF’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program. It’s the next step in his decades-long career as a member of the Marine Corps.
Hardy enrolled at Norwich University Senior Military College in Vermont immediately out of high school. But after two years, he couldn’t come to terms with the amount of debt he incurred from attending. Born into a military family, he already knew he wanted to enlist but decided to join before completing his studies.
His father, Jerry Hardy, said he never doubted the promise his son made.
“Travis has always spoken the truth, he’s true to his word,” Jerry said. “It never mattered to his mother and I when he was done. The Marine Corps has enabled him to deliver on his promise to us sooner rather than later.”
After attending boot camp in August 2011, Hardy attended the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. Now combat ready, he got his first duty station in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines at Camp Pendleton, California.
“I didn’t do much in my first year in the fleet,” Hardy said. “It was all about pulling triggers and learning leadership until I was deployed.”
Joining the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit gave Hardy the opportunity to tour the South Pacific, including Thailand, Japan and the Philippines.
Returning to the States with new experience, he received his first major promotion from gunner to team leader and rose through the ranks to become a lance corporal.
Hardy was brought back to Darwin, Australia when he joined the Marine Rotational Forces – where there are more crocodiles than people. But he says his biggest culture shock came from his time fighting in the Middle East.
“Everywhere I went, I always had an ‘I’m not in Kansas anymore’ moment,” he said. “In Thailand, you can’t talk about the royal family without being arrested. The Middle East can feel like a whole different world, the culture and belief system is so different.”
Though he’s back on US soil, he’s now facing a new culture shock — returning to a college campus.
After serving as a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina, Hardy was selected as one of 50 Marines for the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program. After being selected, he attended Officer Candidate School and upon graduation was given the opportunity to apply to any university with an NROTC program.
“It was a big transition,” Hardy said. “I just got off the field so I was used to being aggressive and aggressive all the time. Also, I’m a decade older than 99% of my classmates.”
Hardy remains an active Marine while completing a full course program and is involved in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. But he says his real-world experience helped put the school in perspective.
“When I was an 18-year-old boy in Norwich, I hated it. I wasn’t interested,” he said. “Now at 32, college feels easy. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you manage your time properly, it won’t rule your life.”
Gunnery Sgt. Geovanie Maldonado has observed Hardy’s commitment to NROTC and the way he contributes to all aspects of the field. He said Hardy’s work ethic was a major factor in the program’s success.
“I can always count on him,” Maldonado said. “He volunteers his free time and mentoring and supporting all of the younger students in our programs. In the absence of leadership, you can always expect Travis to fill that void.”
After graduating, Hardy plans to use his degree to move into the world of politics. For now, though, he hopes to inspire critical thinking and spark conversation in his classmates.
“We’re human, we’re all different,” he said. “You can put 10 people in a room and there will be 20 different opinions. I think I bring a fresh perspective that shows that what you’ve been taught is sometimes not what’s actually going on in the world. I have actually been all over the world and can share these experiences.
“Even if we don’t agree, I want people to walk away from a conversation with more understanding of where someone is coming from.”