Traciemarie: Finding a Calling

Traciemarie D. Sanjuan

  • U.S. Navy, nine years – resumed active duty in spring 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic
  • Nursing major
  • Working toward university transfer

Traciemarie Sanjuan in military uniformEverything begins with a dream. I am a first-generation college student in my family.

We migrated to the United States when I was 10 years old. After high school, I aimed to go to college and finish with a nursing degree. Unfortunately, we did not have the means to sustain my goal, financially. And so, my journey began when I signed up in the world’s greatest Navy, the United States Navy.

Being in the military was a whole different world to me. It opened so many doors that helped me grow professionally and personally. I was given the opportunity to serve as a Hospital Corpsman – and that is one of the best things I have been blessed with. As a Hospital Corpsman, I served in different medical platforms, taking care of my brothers and sisters in the armed forces, their families, and our veterans. I was taught and trained in various environments such as a hospital setting and emergency field tactical care.

I Knew What I Had To Do

On one occasion, we did a medical coverage in Iwo Jima. We had a Navy veteran who had to be transported from the island to the nearest military treatment facility, in Guam. I was so nervous when we received the call that I thought all my knowledge went out of the window. But as soon as we arrived and I saw the patient, I knew what I had to do. We all did, and we worked together to get the patient ready for transport. The patient survived, and from then on, that’s when I knew this was my calling. I believe that God’s purpose for me is to save lives, so each person can go back home to their families.

During my time in active duty, I would take one or two classes at night to fulfill my general education and nursing prerequisites. Eventually I received my first associate degree in Multidisciplinary Studies. The Navy has been really good to me, especially my senior mentors who have guided me throughout my journey. But after serving for eight years on the active-duty side, I decided to give all my focus to pursue my nursing degree.

My transition from the military to civilian life alone was a lot of work. But, the military never failed to give support to help me with my transition. From the Transition Assistance Program, Veterans Affairs, veterans’ center college counselors and all the other nonprofit organizations that help veterans like me, college was just a step away.

A Diagnosis and Treatment

My first year back as a full-time student in college was a great experience. However, I often felt headaches or migraines that seemed to end up getting worse and worse everyday. This was my biggest challenge because I am always too busy taking care of other people, but I tend to forget about checking on my own health. When a VA van visited my college, I went to get checked and they signed me up for free VA medical benefits and provided a referral to the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at the Palo Alto VA.

Traciemarie Sanjuan in green dressAfter an evaluation, I was given a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury from my prior service in the military. But the Polytrauma team ensured that my TBI won’t get in the way of my goals in life. They referred me to a transition social worker and provided me treatments that controlled my headaches and migraines.

I was able to do well in my school and I was fortunate to be hand-picked as one of the 14 students to receive a scholarship from Stanford University for its summer Veteran Accelerator program.

There are many factors that have helped me succeed in college. First are all the blessings God has given me – blessings that include my family and friends, who never failed to believe in my potential and support me; my mentors, teachers, counselors and especially our Veteran Services center in school; organizations that support veterans like me, which provide opportunities in education and the workplace; and my experiences in the military. The military introduced me to different people from all walks of life, and I must say their wisdom has been a great map for me in navigating my journey. And another blessing is camaraderie: I believe that we are stronger when we work as a team. I believe that another person’s strength complements my weakness and vice versa.

If there is one thing I would advise a friend regarding college, it is to never doubt themselves. Do not fear failure because that is how you grow. Keep working on your goals no matter what life throws at you. There is always someone willing to lend a hand and help. I would not change anything that I have done before, because it all led me to the great opportunities and my journey today. Yes, I have failed several times, but this just made me an example to others that failure is not the end. Those things shall pass and we grow from it. And through experience, we become a voice of guidance so we can light others' journeys.

– Traciemarie Sanjuan, spring 2020

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