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When Brandon Williams began taking classes at Joliet Junior College in 2010, the cards were stacked against him. Williams, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was going through a divorce and struggling with alcoholism.
On May 18, after he attended JJC on and off for eight years, Williams will walk across the stage with the Class of 2018 having earned his Associate of Applied Sciences in Computer Network Security.
Williams, 34, is the student speaker at JJC’s Spring Commencement ceremony. He will use himself as an example that anyone can overcome the hardships they may face.
“Never give up, no matter how hard the situation is, no matter how hard life hits you, you have to get up. Don’t let life’s sourness consume you,” said Williams.
Williams has two daughters, three-year-old Peyton and one-year-old Piper, and a wife Sam, whose support he says is immeasurable.
“My wife’s always been there by my side, always supporting me,” he said.
Williams’ mom and sisters have also been there to motivate him to finish his dream. They help babysit the girls whenever he needs some time to himself.
“They’ve been my support. They’ve been my rock. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. I wouldn’t have had the drive to accomplish what I’ve accomplished so far.”
He loves his girls immensely and enjoys whatever time he gets with them, which is limited because of his job and attending school full-time. But Williams has had to overcome some uphill battles in order to experience the joys of today.
At age 19, after graduating from Downers Grove South High School, Williams enlisted in the United States Army. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan that taught him a lot. Namely, how valuable life is.
“Quickly I learned that life was precious,” said Williams. “It could be over in an instant.”
Because of the difficult environment overseas, he returned home with PTSD and depression. By the time he arrived at JJC in 2010, Williams was working through a divorce and a bout with alcoholism.
He met Pam Dilday, the college’s director of Student Activities, during his first semester. Even when not enrolled in classes, he kept in touch with Dilday. Williams credits her for encouraging him to come back and finish his degree.
“She saw something in me that I didn’t see at the time,” he said.
Stan Pieklo, professor of Computer Information and Office Systems, was one of Williams’ favorite professors.
“He’s so passionate about computers; it makes you want to learn. It makes you want to pay attention,” He said of Pieklo.
Because of his PTSD, sometimes it is hard for Williams to walk the halls with a lot of students. When he starts to feel anxious, he stops in the Veterans Resource Center to take some time to calm the anxiety. There, he also gets to meet with other veterans that understand what he’s going through.
Williams loves music and is a disc jockey in his spare time.
“Music’s always been a love and a passion for me.”
He also likes to play video games with his old Army buddies from time to time. He said he had to put those activities on the back burner though, so he could concentrate on school.
But the love of Williams’ family has remained constant, and finishing his degree helps Williams provide them with a better life. He wants to use his degree to help people. He wants to be the person people call when they need help.
His wife Sam will attend JJC to study nursing in the fall. Williams says that it’s his turn to take on some extra responsibility and be the support for her that she was for him.
You can learn more about Brandon here.
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