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From Combat to CSU Award

Graduate Student Lands Wells Fargo Scholar/CSU Trustees’ Award

Sept. 16, 2013

For TJ Reynolds '13 (B.A. English), who grew up poor in Mountain Ranch, a town of 2,000 people where the nearest university was more than 70 miles away, college was a distant thought.

“My family struggled financially,” he said. “We were forced to use public welfare during the hard years. So, when it came to high school graduation, I began to fret. University was something wealthy kids could afford, not me.”

After 9/11, Reynolds enlisted in the Army and served as an infantryman in Mosul, Iraq. The war took a toll on the man who loves poetry. “We saw the inglorious face of global conflict: bodies in and out of bags, metal and concrete exploding,” he said. “We saw hate, were hate and were hated.”

Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder shortly after completing his tour of duty in 2005, Reynolds had trouble keeping a job. Then, he discovered Cal State Fullerton, where he found his calling and earned his bachelor’s degree in English (magna cum laude) earlier this year. Today, he is this year’s Wells Fargo Scholar, the recipient of the California State University Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement, which comes with a $6,000 scholarship.

Reynolds is one of 23 awardees — one from each of the CSU campuses — who will be recognized Sept. 24 by the CSU Board of Trustees and CSU Foundation Board of Governors in Long Beach for demonstrating superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need. CSU trustees’ scholars are nominated by their campus president.

“CSU trustees’ scholars have defied the odds, rising above circumstance to become leaders among their classmates and exemplifying the CSU mission of access to a quality higher education,” CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said. “Through talent, determination and drive, they now grasp the promise of a brighter future — for self, family and community.”

Reynolds, the first in his family in three generations to attend college, said school became his refuge.

“Academia made a place for me, respected my story and listened to my voice,” he said. “Eventually, I stopped leaving classes in a cold sweat, and I no longer registered as a disabled student. I found solace in Joyce, Garcia Lorca and Whitman instead.”

Reynolds, who lives in Long Beach with his wife and two children, plans to pursue a doctorate after completing his master’s degree. He wants to become a college professor.

“I am better for my sorrows and more capable of helping others,” Reynolds said. “When I encounter veterans fresh from war, I encourage them to seek counseling and go to school. When I become a college professor, I intend to engage the students who usually slip away: the sad ones, the distracted ones, the ones in pain. When I publish my fiction and poetry, I hope it will help people remember the tragedy of war and its price.”

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