News & Events

Waubonsee Veteran Continues to Serve

Jorge Arciniega

During the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Jorge Arciniega was watching the news unfold with his classmates when the teacher – a veteran – suddenly shut off the television and asked the students if any of them planned to enlist. Not yet understanding that the country was headed to war, the class fell silent. In that moment, Arciniega was overcome with a desire to be different. He raised his hand.

The Waubonsee Community College student has been raising his hand ever since. He joined the military at age 17 and went on to serve from 2002 until 2014. Now a married father with his second child on the way, Arciniega serves as the president of Waubonsee’s Veterans Club and said the group provides an outlet for his desire to continue serving in any way he can.

He will stand alongside his fellow Waubonsee student veterans during a ceremony at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at the Academic Professional Center, Room 110, at the Sugar Grove Campus, Route 47 and Waubonsee Drive. The observance will include remarks from a keynote speaker and Waubonsee faculty, staff and students, as well as participation from the American Legion Post 1271 of Sugar Grove and members of the Waubonsee Community College Veterans Club.

Waubonsee serves an average of 400 veterans per semester. Recognizing that each veteran’s needs are unique, the college has a Veterans Services office that provides individualized assistance to help veterans navigate federal and state education benefits, academic planning, applying college credit for military experience and finding appropriate support services. Such efforts have earned Waubonsee recognition as a “Military Friendly School” by “G.I. Jobs” magazine.

But for many of those veterans, the Veterans Club feels like a familiar place where they can fulfill an ongoing desire to serve their communities.

“Being at Waubonsee is part of my desire to do something bigger with my life,” Arciniega said as he outlined his dreams of pursuing a career in marketing and eventually going on to earn his law degree and become a federal court judge. It is more important to him than ever that he tries to reach those goals: Last year, his father died, prompting him to return to Illinois to help his mother, who lives in Yorkville.

“My dad used to say he thought I’d be an attorney,” Arciniega said. “I want to make sure I am doing all I can to make him proud.” To reach those dreams, his days are full: Arciniega is involved in 10 student groups at Waubonsee, takes classes and tries to spend as much time as he can with his wife and two-year-old daughter.

“I am young and full of ideas and energy,” he said. “But I also don’t want to be 80 and looking back on my life and regretting not trying.”

It wasn’t always this way for Arciniega: He moved to Cicero from Los Angeles in seventh grade. For him, the best way to soothe the social challenges of being the new kid was to be the class clown. His popularity improved, but his grades and focus suffered. That’s why it came as a such a surprise to him how much his life changed during that moment on 9/11 when he raised his hand.

“My wife is my best friend and biggest supporter,” he said. “Whenever I doubt myself she always reminds of that moment when I raised my hand to be different. Every decision in my life since then has been based on that moment.” Today, Arciniega has maintained almost all A’s and anticipates finishing his associate degree this summer.

“Life itself has taught me to give back,” he said. “I grew up poor and learned to be humble. I know that I can’t be successful without helping others to be successful.”

Arciniega credits his time as a drill instructor for teaching him that lesson.

“Being a drill instructor taught me that the focus wasn’t about me,” he said. “Your stamp on a person will be carried with them forever.”

That’s why he takes his leadership role on campus so seriously. This year, he is working hard to make sure that Waubonsee’s veterans have opportunities to get involved in their communities. Those efforts include fundraising and volunteering for local nonprofits and pursuing partnerships with groups who serve veterans.

“We’re focusing on continuing to serve our country by serving our communities,” he said. “In doing that, we’re also serving ourselves.”