On June 12, 2016, James Curtis will graduate from Hodges University with a Bachelor of Science in health services administration. There will no doubt be plenty of excitement and celebration as the day unfolds, but for Curtis, the day signifies the coming together and accomplishment of the hard work, long nights and sacrifice he has made to ensure a better future for himself and his family.
Growing up in Boston, Curtis was exposed to a lifestyle that could have easily become his reality. Surrounded by gangs and violence, he and his family moved around the country before, at age 13, he went to live in the Philippines with his mother’s family. Three years later, at 16 years old, he moved to Southwest Florida to live with his father’s parents and attend Cape Coral High School where, unbeknownst to him, he would attend school with his future wife, Suzette.
“It’s a funny story because I officially met my wife the year after we graduated high school. While in school, I was taking Spanish and there were some of us who had other students doing our homework. When she and I met, she told me that she recognized my name because she was the one doing my homework,” he laughed.
After graduating high school, Curtis was dealt a difficult decision, saying, “I was at an age where I was getting into stuff, and an education wasn’t all that important. I made some bad decisions.” In October 2003, at 19 years old, he made a decision that would ultimately change his life – enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.
Committing to six years of active duty, he knew the first step would be basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. However, only two months after enlisting in the military, he and Suzette married in December 2003. “After finishing basic, I received my orders that I was going to England for three years, so in 2004, my wife, our son James II and I moved to England and stayed there until 2007,” he explained. “Our daughter, Phoenix, was actually born in England in 2006.”
Although he expressed an interest in the medical field, he found himself working on fighter jets with the U.S. Air Force. Curtis worked specifically on low altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night (LANTRIN), a system that enables fighter jets to attack targets on the ground at low altitudes and at night.
At the requests of the military, Curtis and his family left England, and while he received orders to report to Utah, they decided that Suzette and their two children would return home to Florida. “That support system is so important, and she needed that,” he said. While in Utah, he felt he needed to “do his part,” so he signed up for a six-month tour in Iraq, saying, “The camaraderie I experienced in Iraq and throughout my time in the military was priceless.”
In 2009, after returning from Iraq, Curtis was discharged from the military and returned to Southwest Florida to be with his family. Looking to pursue a career in the medical field, he went to work at the Institute for Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. Earning his associate degree in 2011, he became a certified x-ray technician and medical assistant. Looking to broaden his career opportunities, Curtis knew he needed a bachelor’s degree, so he began looking at various colleges, and in 2012, he enrolled in Hodges University’s health services administration program.
“Hodges provided such a welcoming and accommodating feel, and I felt that Hodges offered something other schools could not. The small classes allowed for more one-on-one interaction with professors who are amazing and genuine. Also, as a veteran student, I was fortunate to have the GI Bill pay for some of my schooling,” he said.
For the first three years of his schooling, Curtis found himself working full time, caring for his family and managing schoolwork, which proved to be difficult at times. Admitting that much of his time was spent in one particular study room within the Fort Myers campus library, Curtis received support from not only his family, but from his peers and professors. “Professors Comer, Shoff, Clifton, Farhadi and Bushéy made such an impact on my time at Hodges, and to be honest, I would parallel the friendships I made with my peers to those I made in the military,” he stated.
In 2015, Curtis and his wife received difficult news, making the work-school-life balance much more challenging, saying, “2015 was extremely difficult because my wife was diagnosed with leukemia.” Believing that life isn’t always easy, he often reminds himself of the notion that “you can’t control chaotic things in life. What you can control is how you react to it.”
Now that his time at Hodges has come to an end, and his only task left is to receive his degree on graduation day, his educational journey is far from over. One week after graduation, Curtis will take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) with the hopes of being accepted into a medical school in Florida. “My overarching goal is to become a medical doctor,” he said.
In preparation for his next step towards medical school, he appreciates the dedication and effort made by Hodges faculty and staff to help him succeed. “It is advantageous for non-traditional students such as myself to attend Hodges. The faculty and staff, they help you adapt so that you can pursue a college education; it is such a wonderful place.”