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Graduate’s March to Commencement Includes Marching from Saddam Hussein’s Palace in Baghdad

With some conditioning in the military, Mario Ramirez transforms from college dropout to college graduate with honors.

Date: 12/6/2010
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Dottie Stover and Mario Ramirez
“I would think to myself, ‘If I ever get home, I’m going to be the best that I can be. And I’m going to start by finishing college.’”

At UC’s Commencement Ceremony on Dec. 11, Mario Ramirez transforms from college dropout to college graduate with honors and goals of pursuing law school. The 36-year-old Bridgetown native grew from struggling student, to soldier, to a young father, before returning to UC and now graduating with honors this December. He’s earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a focus in paralegal studies.

Mario Ramirez
Mario Ramirez

Ramirez says he first started out at UC as a student and walk-on football player after graduating from Colerain High School in 1993, where he played football for Kerry Coombs, now an assistant football coach at UC. The following spring, he spent months recovering from a motorcycle accident and transferred to a small southern Kentucky college on a football scholarship. “But I was a city boy in the country, and I didn’t like it very much, so I came back to UC in 1996, but I wasn’t doing very well in school.”

He dropped out of college, later became a new father and at that point says he realized it was time to jumpstart his career, so he joined the U.S. Army where he continues to serve in the reserves as a Sergeant First Class (SFC) with the 9th Legal Support Organization in Columbus, Ohio. SFC Ramirez is the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of his team, and a member of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, the oldest law firm in the nation. “It is an honor to be a member of the JAG and I love to lead and develop the young soldiers in my unit.”

Ramirez says joining the Army changed his life and put his priorities in order. “Once I got in the military, I excelled at everything I did,” he says. “It was a perfect fit for me. I found out where I belonged.”

Ramirez

Ramirez served one tour with the XVIII Airborne Corps, the Army’s largest war-fighting organization designed for rapid deployment. On one assignment in 2007-08 during the height of the Surge in Iraq, Ramirez’s unit was headquartered in what was former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad. “I worked in the JAG office, and the office was stationed in Hussein’s bedroom,” he recalls. “It was amazing. Everything was decorated in gold and marble.”

Ramirez says he was serving with an elite group of lawyers, many of whom had graduated from West Point and Harvard. “One day, we were walking back from lunch and a captain asked me why I hadn’t graduated from college. I told him it was a long story. Then, he said, ‘How are you going to tell your kids that they have to go to college and graduate when you haven’t done so yourself?’

“It was like a seed had been planted,” Ramirez says. “I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and I thought about the places I had been and the things I had seen and it made me realize just how good we have it here in the United States.

“I had been in situations where I was wondering if I would ever see my family again. I made promises to myself that if I ever got home, then I was going to be the best that I can be. I got in touch with UC before I came home.”

Ramirez

“It had always bothered me that I didn’t graduate from college. It was the only thing I started that I hadn’t finished,” he says.

Because of his previous academic record, Ramirez appealed to go back to UC under the so-called “Academic Fresh Start” policy, which allows qualifying students who performed poorly in the past to get a fresh start at building a cumulative GPA. Ramirez says he has been on the honor roll ever since.

“Mario was a role model for the other students,” says Roger Wright, professor of criminal justice, UC College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services (CECH). “As his professor, it has been an honor and privilege to help one of our bravest warriors attain his goals.”

“Mario was an excellent student but equally important, he was a great role model for the other students,” says Janis Walter, professor of criminal justice. “They all respected and liked him. When he recently visited my classroom, he was immediately swamped by students who wanted to wish him well.”

Ramirez

Ramirez’s tuition was supported through the G.I Bill. He adds that the criminal justice program in the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH) has been very accommodating to his continuing military duties in the Army Reserves. He is still looking ahead to a year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan as part of his service in the military.

His entire family – parents and three sisters – a 10-year-old son, Dominick, and his wife, Laura, are planning to watch him march across the stage at Commencement. Ramirez and his wife also have a four-year-old daughter, Bridget, and Ramirez is stepfather to Laura’s 12-year-old son, Anthony. “None of this could have taken place without the support of my loving wife and family. She is amazing,” he says.

Looking back on his long journey to this graduation, Ramirez says it was the discipline of the military and gaining maturity that brought him to this achievement. “I came back from Iraq thinking that I could conquer the world, but I was a little worried when I first came back to UC and looked ahead to assignments and writing all the papers. Then, I buckled down and made it happen. I just found my groove.”

“I’m now proud to be a UC alumnus. Go Bearcats!”

He plans to take the LSAT this winter to begin preparations to enter law school.

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