Marine Corps combat veteran finds home at GGC
Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) development director Matthew May had arrived at a crossroads in his life when he came to the Marine Corps — or rather, the Marine Corps came to him. He was 20 years old and had just failed out of college, squandering the soccer scholarship he’d earned as a star player growing up in Chicago.
“I was sitting on the couch watching TV, wondering, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ when a commercial for the Marine Corps came on,” May said.
He got off the couch, went to the local recruiting station, and joined that day.
“Once I failed in life, I had to take a hard look in the mirror, and the Marine Corps was the answer,” he said.
May spent six years, from 2007 to 2013, as an infantry rifleman, including two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, and rose to the rank of sergeant. Marines are sometimes referred to as the tip of the spear for U.S. forces in combat zones, so he experienced his fair share of war during his long months deployed.
The day-to-day problems in the civilian workforce, safely back home within friendly U.S. borders, don’t seem that dire to those who’ve had to make life-and-death decisions while being shot at, a perspective that aided him greatly as he transitioned back into civilian life.
“The soft skills that we develop adaptability, ability to overcome obstacles, situational awareness, being able to make hard decisions — have all served me well,” he said.
May never lost his desire to earn a college degree, so the first thing he did after taking off the uniform was enroll in a North Carolina community college and work as a car salesman to pay the bills. When his ex-wife moved to Georgia, May moved to Lawrenceville to be closer to his three children. It was then that May first set his eyes on GGC.
“I was determined to get a college degree,” he said. “GGC was my fifth college and by far the best in my eyes. All the new technology appealed to me, but especially the small class sizes. Being around large groups of people isn’t ideal for some of us veterans, and I’m low-key and not good at school, so having one-on-one time with teachers was priceless. That got me through.”
May received a business administration degree with a management concentration in 2018. At the time, he never would have imagined his path would circle back to his alma mater, but life, like war, is nothing if not unpredictable.
He worked as an account executive at a telecommunications company and later in business development in the aerospace and defense arena, jobs that demanded a lot of his time and energy.
“It was a lot of travel. I missed my kids’ soccer tournaments sometimes, and it got to the point where I just wanted to be grounded again and not have to travel to the airport every week.”
While perusing LinkedIn one night, he came across a job posting for a prospect development manager position at GGC, a job involving work with potential donors. He applied, got the job and was soon headed back to Lawrenceville, this time for good. He recently was promoted to the role of development director.
“I never thought of higher education - I didn’t even know there were development jobs in that space,” he said. “When I applied and got the job, it was unexpected but exhilarating.”
He now lives two miles from campus and has about a five-minute commute. His children are less than 20 minutes away.
“And being from Chicago, I do love the South because the weather is gorgeous. Talk about a mental health change.”
Being a veteran is still the most important title on his resume, said May, and he stays involved in the veteran community by serving as an adviser to GGC’s chapter of the Student Veterans Association.
It’s been a long, sometimes harrowing road from Marine Corps boot camp to the GGC campus, but May says he’s grateful for the journey. It brought him to a job he enjoys in a place he loves, with time to spend with his kids, ages 10, 7 and 6.
“God works in mysterious ways,” said May. “He doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle, and the rewards can be great.”