Amid the Clatter of Move-In Day 2015, a Quiet Marine Lands

This past Wednesday, 500 first-year students from 35 states and 29 countries arrived on campus, along with 73 transfer students and a Marine vet named Steve Escobar ’19, who is ready for his next mission—education.

Photos by Scott Cook. Video by Jennifer DeWitt.

As the cars and trailers arrived on Move-In Day with a semester’s worth of necessities, and as excited families squeezed past each other in busy, crowded residence halls on the south side of campus, a 25-year-old former Marine sergeant arrived by himself at silent, empty Holt Hall on the north side.

Steve Escobar ’19 was only one of four new transfer students scheduled to arrive last Wednesday at the residence hall, where the vast majority of residents are returning students, who would arrive a few days later. But he was delighted to be on campus and marveled at the friendliness of the two student volunteers who welcomed him and asked if he needed coffee, water, cookies, or help with the bags. He didn’t, but he enjoyed being asked.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

“So how friendly everyone is,” he says.” It’s not like an act that they’re putting on for today. It’s just like that’s how they are.”

While a small army of Rollins volunteers helped first-year students and their families settle in a few blocks away, Escobar went to work. Three trips to his SUV; three trips up the elevator; three trips down the empty hallway, and he was moved in. And happy.

One of his best friends from North Carolina, Alex Wright ’15, had recently graduated from Rollins and Escobar had visited after finishing his four-year hitch with the Marines. So he already loved the school, the setting, the people, and when he heard about the Yellow Ribbon program that would supplement his veterans’ educational benefits, he applied. He kept hoping while taking a few courses at Wake Technical Community College back home.

“All summer, I was just waiting for the approval to come,” he says. “As soon as it happened, I said, ‘I’m going to Rollins!’ ” His plan is to study computer science (an extension of his military skills) and international business (where he might employ his Spanish and interpersonal skills). “I like talking with people. I love interacting.”

He lifted neatly folded clothes from a skillfully packed suitcase and started moving t-shirts without messing the creases. “You have to be neat in the Marines,” he says. Then the hangers went into the closet in an orderly fashion. He left his uniforms with his father in North Carolina, but he still keeps a few reminders of his two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

There’s the Bible his family gave him before he shipped out. It has a short, simple inscription that makes him pause when he reads it. “I carry it everywhere,” he says. Then there’s his military dog tag. He was required to carry two—one around his neck or in his pocket, and one in his left boot as a backup ID, in case he was severely wounded or killed. In addition, there’s his ID patch that was affixed to the armor plate across his chest. “That’s another thing I carry with me everywhere, so I know what I’ve done and keep it in my head.”

Escobar is such an easygoing guy—he’s already worked out with the basketball team for fun and likes to chat with just about everyone he encounters—that it’s almost hard to imagine him in a war zone worried about keeping his 30 men safe. However, during his two tours of duty in Afghanistan, he helicoptered in to hot spots and rode in Humvees through hostile areas to reach comrades who needed his communications squad to fix emergency links to satellite phones and military radios—essential lifelines while under fire.

After all that, Holt Hall seemed plush to his way of thinking. The same space he’ll share with a roommate would have housed 12 Marines in Afghanistan minus any air conditioning to deal with temperatures topping 115 degrees. Within a few minutes, the suitcase was emptied and the bureau drawers pushed shut. Escobar looked up. “Well, that’s pretty much it.”

Maybe that’s all it took to unpack, but getting to Rollins required a more complicated journey that shows the many varieties of experiences that lead students to Winter Park.

After graduating high school in 2008 in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, he took a few college classes but just couldn’t commit to a career. A dedicated high school athlete, captain of his soccer team, a kid who stayed out of trouble even after his mother died when he was 11, Escobar suddenly felt as if he was drifting. And he didn’t like it. He decided he needed direction, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps. “I knew that the Marine Corps would challenge me and make me a better person. […] I wanted to do something that was going to serve my country and make a difference.”

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

After boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina, he learned communications technology—radio, satellite, computers, and decoding—and excelled, making sergeant in three years and preparing to take on the next challenge in Afghanistan with the Marines’ Regimental Combat Team 6. Along the way, he earned two Navy Achievement Medals and learned to sleep while firefights ensued just outside his base.

He wanted to live on campus to experience all of college life. However, before he left North Carolina, he wondered about fitting in. He told his father, “Dad, I’m like old. That’s the only thing that weirds me out that I’m 25 coming into school.” His father, who was born in El Salvador, just told him: “You’re never too old to go to school.”

So Escobar is ready for his next challenge: computer science and international business. In the Marines, he learned to break down tasks into their simplest parts. Today that means, “Got to get your degree. Got to get better.”

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)