It was a bit of a surprise to his family and others around him when Jon Charest decided to enlist in the Marines after he finished high school in Connecticut in 1999. He came from a family of pastors and missionaries, and he did not fit the stereotype of the people who opted to become Marines.
“I was a tall, skinny kid – not the typical Marine,” he says. “It was a shock to a lot of people when that was what I decided to do.”
But his parents were supportive when they realized how serious Charest was about becoming a Marine. “It became a challenge to see if it was something I could do,” he says.
Charest spent much of his free time exploring the countries where he was stationed, appreciating the opportunity to meet people from other countries (He got to know “some of the nicest people I’ve ever met” while in Saudi Arabia.) and enjoy their food and culture (He says the food in China was “absolutely amazing.”). He enjoyed snorkeling in the Red Sea and running a half marathon on the Great Wall of China. He even came to love deserts during his time in Iraq and a post in Yuma, Arizona, early in his Marine career.
After finishing his career in the Marines, Charest was ready for college. His final post was at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in eastern North Carolina, so Charest opted for NC State. Because of residency questions, he initially spent time working and studying at Wake Technical College before enrolling at NC State. He graduated in August with two bachelor’s degrees – in economics and international studies. He is looking forward to marching in the graduation ceremonies this December.
And he will be one of several veterans who will be honored Saturday as NC State celebrates Military Appreciation Day during the football game against Wake Forest.
Charest was often the oldest student in his classes at NC State, a situation that had advantages and disadvantages. He was often an active participant in classroom discussions, being able to offer a real-world perspective that most of his younger classmates could not. But that also meant he didn’t have much in common with his younger classmates.
“It was a different college experience,” he says. “I took classes that I wanted to take, I cared about my grades, I wanted to learn. Some kids are there because it’s the next step after high school. Veterans, they want the degree. It means a lot to them.”
Charest says that NC State has done a lot to make veterans feel comfortable as students, including have a group on campus specifically for students who are veterans. He says it would help, though, if veterans had their own space on campus where they could meet and talk with others who have been through similar experiences.
“NC State had great services through the counseling center, but there’s such a stigma in the military against seeking any help, so they won’t accept the services,” he says. “Having a place where they can go and talk among themselves, or go talk with a counselor from the Raleigh Vet Center, would be helpful.”
Charest is currently living in Raleigh and working for the American Cancer Society, organizing Relay for Life fundraising events in Vance, Warren and Granville counties. He’s also stayed active with the student veterans group at NC State.
But eventually he hopes to get back overseas – in addition to his military service, Charest spent time in Peru as part of a study abroad program while he was at NC State.
“I like Raleigh, but I want to go overseas,” he says. “I love traveling and experiencing other cultures.”