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I had a great experience here.

When Mario Ramirez walked across the stage at the Waubonsee Community College graduation this past weekend, it was the start of the first break the U.S. Army veteran has had in a long time.

Ramirez, of Romeoville, has served his country for 15 years, including three deployments to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. His military career has taken him to 25 countries and 48 states.

During his time as a student at Waubonsee, Ramirez continued to serve through his work-study job at the DuPage County Veterans Center. He did this while juggling a heavy course load that brought him to campus four days a week.

His duties at the DuPage County Veterans Center included greeting veterans, answering phones, assisting with scheduling and helping with outreach.

Ramirez plans to take the summer off and has a trip to Costa Rica planned with his girlfriend. After that, he will resume his studies at Lewis University, where he wants to pursue a degree in medical lab sciences or forensics. He hopes a career in those fields will enable him to continue to make life better for fellow veterans, especially those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Definitely what sparked my interest in this career is Veterans Affairs because they give us medication to deal with PTSD and other experiences that we had overseas, and sometimes the medication can be improved upon, which is why I am interested in the pharmaceutical side of medical lab sciences,” he said. “I hope that I can be part of finding medications with less side effects to help people deal with problems they encountered in the military.”

Ramirez said he is grateful that his experience at Waubonsee allowed him to keep his identity as a veteran while also transitioning into a civilian life.

“I had a great experience here,” he said, explaining that he took advantage of the college’s veterans’ services, and felt that Heather Watson, Waubonsee Transfer/Veterans Advisor, went above and beyond to connect with and assist all veterans on campus.

“She was outstanding and went beyond to help us be successful,” he said.

Ramirez said he hopes he represented veterans well to his fellow students too.

“Being in the military, people think we are just jar heads,” he said. “I sensed a stereotype of military guys but I think I changed their perspective through my leadership and because I felt comfortable engaging in the classrooms and maybe even helping my fellow students who were a little younger than me to find confidence in their own abilities too.”