The neighboring chair

by Cougar News Contributor 500 views0

By Stephanie Ramirez

Students who enroll in courses at COC and other schools across the globe usually never worry about the person sitting next to them before class. But once you sit down, now the ordeal of deciding whom you will invite into your personal bubble begins to crawl into your mind.

“Why did they have to get the chair by me?”

“Why should I bother getting to know them if it is just another course? “

“Why would I need another study buddy?”

Students mostly attend classes to learn what they need and move on with their lives. Why would you want the task of adding yet another Joe Schmo onto your list of numbers you won’t call outside of class?

Then the day arrives where you forgot what the professor said, or the time when the wonderful group project arises. This is where the “may I borrow your notes” and fated exchange of numbers happens. The interaction with the neighboring chair takes place.

The neighboring chair I had the pleasure of meeting was Gregg Swanson.

Swanson sat next to me in my communications course and I really had him pegged as the silent type. The 33-year-old Swanson is a New Jersey native but was raised in Santa Clarita since 1989. He’s a quiet, tattooed gentleman who commented on some tattoos I had, but did not seem to have more to him than that. He looked as someone who just needed to come to class, do what he needed to do and then leave.

It seemed like this for the first two classes, but it quickly changed when our professor announced our “Ice Breaker Games.”

I ended up having Swanson as a partner and from there, the somewhat silent occupier of the chair next to me seemed to have a different demeanor. He was making jokes and making the class laugh with him. I did not expect him to talk this much, but was glad he did.

He then began to talk about some meanings of his tattoos, spoke up in class and even chimed in with comedic timing.

He would also begin to speak about how he served in the military.

Photo of Swanson with his dogs Courtesy of Gregg Swanson
Photo of Swanson with his dogs
Courtesy of Gregg Swanson


“My grandfather was a WW2 veteran, my uncle was a Vietnam Veteran, my best friend was in the Army, and after speaking with all of them about enlisting I decided to talk to a recruiter,” Swanson said.

His military career began in 2007 and ended in 2012. After enlisting, Swanson participated in competitions as an active-duty soldier.

“In 2008, I won my first Soldier of the Month Board and went on to win six more boards to where I was Soldier of the Year for the 10th Mountain Division, a win over 15,000 other soldiers. I then went on to compete in the 18th Airborne Corps Soldier of the Year Competition and came in second place over 100,000 plus soldiers,” Swanson stated.

Swanson was making the most of his deployment, but also faced hardships on the battlefield.

Photo of Swanson deployed overseas Courtesy of Gregg Swanson
Photo of Swanson deployed overseas
Courtesy of Gregg Swanson

“I deployed in 2009 to Iraq where I acted as member of the Command Security Team that escorted and protected our Battalion Commander and acted as a member of the QRF, Quick Reaction Force,” Swanson said. “I lost two friends on that deployment and really don’t have much more I would like to say about it. After coming home from deployment, I had surgery for an injury sustained while deployed, which rendered me incapable of doing my current job and was medically separated from the Army.”

Being a veteran, Swanson knew he wanted to be able to come back to Santa Clarita and continue his education, so he checked out the Veterans Affairs Program and began to take courses at COC.

“I already kind of knew I wanted to come to COC, this is like where I grew up, so I wanted to stay here in Santa Clarita and upon my enrollment here, I was informed about the Veteran’s Program here at COC,” Swanson said.

“I get priority registration. We have our own counselors and we have our own facilities with Internet, with printing and study area,” said Swanson.

Many students may pass on by it, but the Veterans Affairs office is one where you will find a sense of unity.

The center, located between Mentry Hall and the Coffee Kiosk By Towsley Hall, offers employment opportunities, a health and wellness center and other resources for veterans.

Registering for courses at COC is difficult enough, but adding the registration of the Veterans Affairs Program on top of it does not sound too thrilling.

“For here at COC, it’s just as easy, it’s very simple,” Swanson said.

He related it to the registering of regular classes and it was one that you could easily be enrolled in.

“Before or after applying to the college, the veteran should check in with the Veterans Center to complete the intake and orientation process,” according to Renard Thomas, an army veteran of 22 years and Director of the Veterans Affairs Program at COC.

“Veterans are also provided with all the information needed to be academically successful and to be able to receive benefits.”

Thomas served in the Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard and recently retired from the Military in December 2013. He has been working at COC since Fall 1998.

Although the men and women who serve our country put their lives on the line, some may question the college class priority given to them.

Swanson had not faced any jealousy regarding his priority in his enrolled courses, but fellow veteran Sonny Argumaniz, 26, had.

He faced the jealousy in the classroom and just had to elaborate, for other students, that he had been on two combat tours and that it had been at a cost to him, according to Argumaniz.

Argumaniz did not deem the situation a big deal.

After further discussion, it revealed that it was just frustration emanating from fellow students due the competition for class space or lack there of. It was not an attack on the military group itself or other groups with priorities.

There are no formal complaints registered with the college for these priorities granted to the veterans.

Photo of Swanson in uniform Courtesy of Gregg Swanson
Photo of Swanson in uniform
Courtesy of Gregg Swanson

Swanson is a veteran who has served his country and continues to get his education at COC and has plans for what he wants his future and career path to be.

He will be transferring to the University of La Verne for a bachelor’s in business and then would like to work for Union Hall as a representative after this next Spring semester, according to Swanson.

It was a pleasure to have been proven wrong by someone whom I pegged in the beginning of the semester as the one who would be the silent type.

This should open fellow students’ eyes to the fact that we do not know who is in the neighboring chair and that maybe we should take a chance on opening our personal bubble just a bit, to be a little more open-minded to the world around us.

Students at COC may have the initial agenda of coming into class, passing and succeeding to be able to take that next step in their lives, but maybe their next step should be to broaden their horizon around them. To be able to have a chance to meet with the student sitting next to them instead of maintaining an anti-social demeanor; this may be something they should consider re-thinking.

In the end, it is up to us to move in the right direction about getting to know one another and break these walls that we surround ourselves with. When we choose to be isolated, we cheat ourselves from meeting extraordinary people like Gregg Swanson, or anyone else who is occupying that neighboring chair in our courses.

Office hours for the Veterans Center are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m-5 p.m. and you can reach them over the phone number at (661)-362-3469.

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