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Veteran overcomes obstacles to earn college degree


By Bob D’Angelo

Cox Media Group National Content Desk

WINTERVILLE, N.C. — There was a time when Zack Cleghorn “didn’t want to wake up in the morning.”

Four years ago he finished a seven-year tour as a Marine, but returning to the United States was tough. The 28-year-old struggled with PTSD and depression and was living out of his car.

Now, he’s the first college graduate in his family and already has landed a job as an instructor at a community college.

“Some people start from the bottom and as they get to a better position they forget the bottom,” Cleghorn told USA Today. “I remember being a student every day as I walk through the halls.”

After his tour of military duty ended, Cleghorn worked as a used car salesman. When that didn’t work out, he moved in with a friend and enrolled at Pitt Community College in Winterville, North Carolina, USA Today reported.

Two years later Cleghorn transferred to East Carolina University, where he earned his degree in industrial engineering technology. He graduated in December and received his diploma last week, USA Today reported.

“I never thought I would have an education, and now look at me,” Cleghorn told the newspaper. “I’m the only college graduate in my family.”

Today, Cleghorn works at Pitt Community College as an instructor coordinator. In his position, he helps people find jobs. He is also taking training classes in fire safety and CPR, USA Today reported.

“Zack has a hardworking mentality that connects with the people he deals with every day,” James Ward, an Air Force veteran who served as Cleghorn’s adviser at Pitt Community College, told USA Today. “He doesn’t give up. He’s persistent.”

Cleghorn said he was working on a master’s degree in technology management and will apply to a doctorate program in education this fall.

“There are thousands of veterans in the same shoes I was in, and unfortunately some of them don’t get out of these shoes,” Cleghorn told USA Today. “I feel like I’m on the earth to help people.”




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