Long road to success for SPC graduate, veteran

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Juan OtazuMore than 10 years ago, SPC student Juan Otazu, 51, began his quest for a bachelor’s degree in nursing. As a U.S. Air Force medic and master sergeant, his duty to country came first. Despite deployments and detours, Otazu kept his dream alive with passion and persistence.

When Otazu first began taking classes at SPC, his academic schedule conflicted with his active duty responsibilities at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. He instead earned his licensed practical nursing credential from another institution.

By the fall of 2009, he was back at SPC, working towards that BSN. But duty called again when he was deployed in 2010 as part of Continuing Promise, a joint armed forces and multinational humanitarian mission to Latin America and the Caribbean.

After finally returning to SPC in 2011 and retiring from the Air Force after 24 years, Otazu became the first in his family to graduate from college in July 2012. He was even chosen to address his fellow graduates at their commencement ceremony.

“It’s passion not a pedigree that will win in the end,” Otazu said during his speech. “You have to believe in yourself and anything is possible. If you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you have to imagine the light.”

While his military career may have delayed his academic goals, Otazu said his time in the service prepared him for life and his new career. Many of his duties were medical-related, as he managed enlisted and civilian staff as a dental clinic superintendent at MacDill.

Beyond the medical experience, Otazu said the military prepared him for a variety of workplace challenges. He knows how to manage people, resolve conflicts and is a pretty good public speaker (if the applause after his graduation speech is any indication).

“All of that definitely carries over into your next career once you retire or decide to go into the civilian world,” he said.

Otazu hopes his commitment to his school work and career goals encourages others to follow their own dreams. And, once they do that, he said, get a plan and be ready to adjust to whatever surprises come your way.

“I would say you have to create a vision and dream of that vision.”