Military service is not just a job. It is a duty, one that involves discipline and self-sacrifice. Those who serve quickly learn that being an honorable soldier means being able to understand priorities and focus on the right ones. It goes well beyond just following orders.
This mentality is exemplified by our most recent recipient of the TonaLaw Veteran’s Scholarship: Michael Lee Sanchez, Sgt USMC (Vet). An enlisted soldier in the Marines, Mr. Sanchez followed the call of duty initially out of a desire for order or purpose. Through his service, he discovered that one has to find his own sense of purpose. The skills you build in the armed forces can show you how to walk the path, but they do not necessarily show you the way.
Fulfilling a promise to his father, Mr. Sanchez has decided to follow his own path towards higher learning. Doing so will allow him to serve his country with his mind as well as his body. He intends to obtain a law degree and pursue public office, helping his fellow Americans fight for equal justice and opportunity.
We commend Mr. Sanchez with the highest level of respect possible, and we wish him luck on his path. We feel certain that he will be able to put the lessons learned in the Marines to good use for the constituents he may someday represent.
A Journey Towards Mindfulness and Maturity Through Service in the U.S. Marines
Michael Lee Sanchez’s father and brother both served in the Marine Corps.
“I had always considered it a family tradition,” he told us.
He implied that this was what initially drove him to enlist.
“Having no real sense of purpose, I was undecided what to pursue after my senior year of high school. Then, one day a Marine recruiter was presenting at my school; my friend said he wanted to go talk with him, and I took it as a sign and tagged along. We both ended up enlisting after graduation.”
While Mr. Sanchez wanted to sound passive, we can see there was a clear, strong calling based on both familial kinship and a desire for structure. The role he volunteered for clearly wasn’t easy to fill. Yet, the challenges tempered Mr. Sanchez into someone motivated to find his own destiny.
He wrote that “through challenging times and uncertainty, the Marine Corps has tested my moxie and enabled me to grow and mature as a person.
“This change has not only helped me succeed in the Marine Corps, but also in my personal life. I believe it will also help in my transition into higher education.”
One of the skills Mr. Sanchez developed was the ability to see opportunities and truly appreciate them for what they were.
“I’ve learned it’s important to be decisive and take advantage of opportunities when they arise, such as applying for competitive internships, taking lead on group projects, or volunteering for extracurriculars.”
We anticipate that, like his experience in Marine Corps service, Mr. Sanchez will be an active participant in his schooling. He won’t be someone who just goes through the motions to obtain his degree. Instead, he will do whatever it takes to excel and make the most out of every opportunity.
Pursuing School to Better Serve His Fellow Americans
“Before enlisting into the Marines my father made me promise him that I would attend college after,” Mr. Sanchez revealed to us. “He served as an infantryman in the Corps and knew the importance of utilizing one’s mind in lieu of their body. I went through my own physical challenges while serving and wholeheartedly support my father’s insight.”
To fulfill his promise, Mr. Sanchez will be attending Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations for an undergraduate program. He then intends to enter law school and seek a position as an elected official one day.
Just like his service, he views school as a path to get him to his goals. And, as a mark of his maturity, his goals involve helping not just himself but also his future family and those who live in his community.
“To me, education is everything. I didn’t understand the power of education, or it’s ability to positively impact families generations after the fact. Years ago I wasn’t thinking about how my education could affect my future children and grandchildren; I was just thinking about myself. I see now that in order to make a lasting positive difference, I first need to educate myself.”
Mr. Sanchez’s approach will be deliberate, with the goal of engaging with every opportunity and making the most out of his educational experience. This zeal for learning is reinforced in part by the skills he learned and the lessons he obtained during his service.
“Structure is very important in my life now, which is something I did not have coming out of high school. In aviation school, I learned to plan out my entire week ahead of time, in order to keep myself organized and up to date with any upcoming meetings or formations. In college, I will use this skill to keep up with classes, assignments, and deadlines.”
Because of this discipline and focus on what matters, we have no doubt that Mr. Sanchez will excel during school — and then use that success as a springboard for what comes next.
A Soldier for Justice We May One Day Count Upon
Mr. Sanchez opened his essay to us with this simple but eloquent summary of his experience:
“The man I am today is very different from the boy who enlisted in the Marine Corps five years ago. I have gained new skills and developed into a leader that I am proud of.”
Based on the tone of his statements and the clear passion woven within them, we get the feeling that Mr. Sanchez only needed a little push to discover his own inner compass. Now, that compass points towards helping others by serving in public office. One reason Mr. Sanchez feels motivated to walk this path is that he has experienced hardships he feels others shouldn’t have to go through.
“I’ve seen many injustices throughout my life,” he wrote, “and I plan on placing myself in a position to positively affect the people around me.”
Because of his racial and economic background, Mr. Sanchez understands the injustices people can experience that impact them in ways both big and small. These barriers are not only unfair; they can also strip away opportunities for individuals to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“I am a lower-class Hispanic American who comes from a family of migrants. I feel I have a responsibility, not as a minority, but as an American to combat discrimination and promote racial quality for all.”
One of the two biggest lessons Mr. Sanchez learned during service was that he should take nothing for granted, even things like attending birthdays, holiday celebrations, or funerals.
“Learning to be flexible with my time and energy, has been crucial in an environment where uncertainty is a part of life.”
The second big lesson was to actively engage with his community, not just be a passive member within it.
“The military has also shown me the benefits of being active in the community, volunteering, and meeting new people. Along with helping others, it is an effective way of networking with fellow students and faculty.”
Like his service, success in higher education will help propel Mr. Sanchez through not just the skills he will learn but the people he will meet.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in the service but am eager to return to school to further my education and pursue my passion.”
The maturity in Mr. Sanchez’s words echoes wisdom that will no doubt inspire others to follow their calling. But when we asked him about what advice he would give to a young child who had a similar experience to his, he cautioned that each person should be willing to find their own path that lay before them.
“Keep an open mind, and try to figure out what makes you happy. I found my purpose through service, but no two paths are alike. Embrace challenges, and understand that anything worthwhile in life is difficult to achieve.”
With those sage words in mind, we once again congratulate Mr. Sanchez on his scholarship. We thank him not just for his service but for the valuable lessons he has shared with us all. The attorneys and staff at TonaLaw wish him the best of luck, and we hope to see you on the ballot someday!