Miguel Vargas and Daniel Mendoza are among the more than 100 military veterans who are graduating from SF State University this year, part of the California State University’s Troops to College initiative, which helps vets make a successful transition to academic life.
The university’s commencement will be held on May 19. A special reception honoring the graduating vets was held in April.
Vargas decided to pursue a career in physical therapy after seeing his close friends sustain injuries and amputations during combat in Iraq.
“My friends who were injured in Iraq have had to relearn how to walk and move – so I was really interested in my motor learning and development classes at SF State,” Vargas said. “I’ve seen how physical therapy can really give someone their life back.”
A native of Salinas and a first-generation immigrant from Mexico, he joined the military a few years after high school in an effort to find his direction in life. As a sergeant in the army, he served a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq from 2006 – 2007.
He was part of an infantry unit that went house to house in Iraqi communities, securing the area and searching for contraband.
Vargas has been accepted to a doctorate program in physical therapy at Fresno State, starting this fall.
Daniel Mendoza, 25, is the first in his family to go to college, graduating with a bachelor’s in political science. The son of Mexican immigrants, he was raised in a poor neighborhood in Richmond.
After dropping out of high school, he joined the marines at the age of 17. He became a sergeant and gained valuable experience working as a logistician on humanitarian aid missions in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami and in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake.
When his active duty ended in 2008, he studied at Contra Costa College before transferring to SF State in January 2011.
“When I first came out of the military it was hard to find my place, but I finally felt at home when I got to SF State,” he said. “I made friends with veterans who felt the same as I did, and the student body was accepting towards vets.”
At SF State he learned critical thinking skills and discovered the value of investigating the story behind the words. Still a reservist in the Marine Corps, he has been called to serve in Afghanistan and will spend a year there starting January 2013, managing logistics at a forward operating base.
When he returns to civilian life, he plans to use his logistical skills and college degree working at a nongovernmental organization.