John Kelly took a long route to Adelphi, from cooking school and restaurant management to the Marines and through Haiti, Liberia and Senegal. Now he’s earning his bachelor’s degree at Adelphi University with an eye on a Master of Social Work and a plan to help vets returning from overseas deployment.
Kelly was working for a national chain, traveling and opening new restaurants, when he broke his leg during a company softball game. Recuperation gave him time to think.
“I needed to do a 180 with my life, and I figured if there is anybody who can get you that discipline and set you up for success, it would be the United States Marine Corps,” he said.
Now he wants to help others find success—namely other vets returning home. A degree from Adelphi, he said, will put him on the path toward achieving his goal.
“I look at this school and this program as a mission and you do what you got to do to get it done. The Marine Corps saved my life. It gave me direction.”
Kelly comes from a military family. His grandfather served in World War II, his father served in Vietnam, his brother is currently stationed in Okinawa and his cousin lost his life while on active duty in Afghanistan. Faithful to family tradition, Kelly served in the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment as the unit’s chief chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear defense specialist. There he taught his fellow unit members how to survive in contaminated zones. He was sent to do relief in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and was stationed in Libya the following year during that country’s civil war.
He left the Marines in 2012 with an honorable discharge and holding the rank of corporal (he was later promoted to sergeant in the inactive Marines). He was anxious to get back into the workforce, he said, but his wife–Calia Audiffred Kelly, M.S. ’06, M.A. ’12, who is now an assistant principal M.S. 158 Marie Curie Middle School–encouraged him to take advantage of the GI bill and go back to college instead.
“My wife and I went to high school together,” he said. “Although we weren’t a couple back then, we reconnected while I was deployed in Liberia, and I told her I loved her for the first time over a satellite phone. Shortly after my discharge from the Marine Corps, we got married.”
Now Kelly is on track for a new career.
“My goal is to work at the VA as a social worker,” he said. “It would afford me the opportunity to give back and support veterans with their struggles with PTSD, substance abuse, or even just introducing them to the luxury of going back to school. Veteran suicide, unemployment, these things are very real. To be able to support these young war-fighters when they come back should be priority number one.”
On top of being a student again, Kelly is a new dad.
“Nine months ago, my daughter was born,” he said. “Balancing my academics with parenthood was definitely a challenge. As she’s gotten older, I’ve learned to prioritize my academics with my family life. Family always comes first with me, but when the family goes to sleep, I go on the laptop and start my homework. A lot of catching up happens on the weekends.
“University College has been incredibly accommodating,” he added. “They have fostered an environment where I’m able to take blended courses where I can actually take classes online, from living room where I can raise my daughter at the same time.”
—additional reporting by Patrick Granata