Beyond the Uniform: Master Sgt. Mills

In elementary school, my mom bought me a pile of t-shirts from the local store emblazoned with the crest of an ivy-league school. I remember wearing them the same way someone would wear a shirt reading Paris, or Egypt, or some other far off destination. I never envisioned myself attending a prestigious university, as I was raised to believe such things were reserved for wealthy, well-connected people who lived in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. Even if I was accepted, my family could not afford the tuition. The “fact’ that I couldn’t attend one of these schools, was something I had been told by people who had very little knowledge of the topic yet were quick to share their expertise.

I joined the Air Force when I was nineteen to help pay for my undergraduate degree.  I had planned to fulfill my six-year, military commitment and get out with my degree.  Unfortunately, the events of September 11, 2001 turned my life upside down, as it did for so many others.  My military commitment took precedence over my education, and I left school to serve on active duty.

In 2009, after several years of part-time study and night classes, I was able to complete my Bachelor of Science.  While on a deployment to Africa in 2013, I decided to pursue a master’s degree, but I didn’t know what to study.  A late-night, Google search led me to the Harvard Extension School website and the Master of Liberal Arts, Sustainability and Environmental Management.  I knew immediately this was the right program for me, but still felt a twinge of doubt if a Harvard degree was within my reach.  I decided to put my fears aside and signed up for one course, using my GI Bill to fund the experiment.  That one course led to another, and another and finally an application for degree candidate status the following year.  It took me four years to complete the degree requirements, but I enjoyed every step of this journey.

Growing up poor, coming from a tiny town in northern Wisconsin, and serving in the military: these things do not limit me.  If anything, they have given me the strength and determination to carry on when others may have given up.  I plan to continue by focusing my energy and efforts on safeguarding the health of the planet for future generations.

Master Sgt. Jamie Mills graduates with her Master of Liberal Arts in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard Extension School.

Master Sgt. Jamie Mills proudly wears her 176th Fighter Squadron patch on her cap at her graduation from Harvard Extension School.

Master Sgt. Jamie Mills proudly wears her 176th Fighter Squadron patch on her cap at her graduation from Harvard.

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