From Iraq to Chico: An Intellectual Journey

By Michael Fitzpatrick, Senior, English & Philosophy

Two months after my high school graduation, I was on the other side of the United States from my home. Nine months after high school graduation, I was on the other side of the world, 7,000 miles from home. My name is Michael Fitzpatrick; I am a senior here at Chico State, but I was a soldier in the United States Army and served two tours in Iraq. During my final year of high school, I felt an incredible sense of uncertainty about what I wanted to do, and so instead of going off to college, I elected to join the Army as a way to go on an adventure and find myself. I did my basic training in Ft. Jackson, SC, before being assigned to a unit in the 1st Cavalry Division out of Ft. Hood, TX. My unit deployed to Iraq a month after I arrived.

While in Iraq, I was faced with some of the harshest existential realities a human can face. I saw friends die, I saw marriages dissolve, I stared into the faces of soldiers grappling with the weight of the duties they had to perform. I watched as we attempted to restore order to a land we had devastated. And the place where I found solace was in the depth of the classics, the works of Dostoevsky, Plato, Kierkegaard, Homer and Milton. These great works of humanity, books that lay forth the human soul, walked me through these struggles and taught me how to wrestle with the world without being overcome by it. By the end of my second tour, I knew that I wanted to get an education, not to get a job, but to become a person capable of living with such questions and tentatively developing answers. I possessed finally the direction I sought—to attend a university and study classic works of literature and philosophy.

I chose Chico State because of the outstanding reputation of the English Dept. I was not misinformed. During the four years I have been here, I have studied under some of the finest faculty in the field, and my knowledge of great literature, and my ability to understand its symbols, conceits, metaphors and values, is owed to their unwavering dedication to their students. While here, I discovered that we feature a wonderful Philosophy Dept., and so I extended my work to a double major in both.

My studies here have utterly changed me as a person. I have become very conscious of my role in the world, of the impact each decision has, whether it be a off-hand comment to a classmate, or a careless tossing of a recyclable water bottle into the trash. I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the humanities, for those areas of human life that serve as repositories for our most cherished values. I’ve realized that a university education is not about getting career qualifications—it’s about becoming a better human being, one with a versatile and wide-understanding of the world. I now practice a life of mindfulness, of being aware of my actions, words and thoughts, and actively seeking to bring them towards the highest ideals of human life. I shall never perfectly succeed, of course—none of us can. But I believe moving in that direction is what matters most. As a philosopher and student of literature, I am asking how I can make a difference in the world and share with others what really matters most.

It is my hope to finish a MA in literature while at Chico State, and then go on to complete a doctoral program in philosophy. As a tutor at the Student Learning Center, I have developed an intense passion for teaching. I would like to go into teaching at a university, an atmosphere where I can do my best to share the deep meaning of our cultural texts with other students, and share how they reflect the human soul in all of us.

I leave you with a reflection. Why are you here? Do you see your education as a means to an end? Or could it be an end in itself, one where the growth and dimension you develop as a person will shape the direction of your future?

5 thoughts on “From Iraq to Chico: An Intellectual Journey”

  1. Michael: Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and your experiences in Iraq and at Chico State. Your story is emblematic of what is best about the CSU and Chico State. It makes me proud to be part of Chico State when I read stories like yours. Thanks again for sharing, and best wishes for the future.
    Bill, UED, CSU Chico

  2. Michael, It is a privilege to work with you in the Student Learning Center. I appreciate your thoughtful approach to teaching and your commitment to student success. You are an amazing person and teacher who values learning.
    All the best,
    ~Christine Connerly
    Student Learning Center

  3. thank you for sharing your honesty!
    it was a pleasure to read this and I’m happy you found such a profound interest in english/literature/philosophy

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