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There was never any question what Kevin Ellis, ’15, would do after graduating from high school in 2004. The U.S. Marine Corps is woven into his family’s DNA. As much as military service seemed inevitable, Ellis always knew that college was also in his future.
Ellis’s great uncle served in Korea, and his father served in Vietnam. The call to service was strong in Ellis, who served five years as an infantry squad leader and completed two deployments, one of which was to Afghanistan. “It’s a family legacy that if my kids one day live out, I’ll be extremely proud,” he says.
After a brief stint at community college and a private-sector job with a contractor in Iraq, Ellis enrolled at Maryville University in 2013, after learning the school had been named one of Missouri’s Best Colleges for Veterans.
“When I initially signed up, I was anxious,” Ellis says.
“But as soon as I got into classes, everything just clicked. The lesson plans were interesting and interactive, and the teachers wanted to help me be successful in my career.”
After receiving credit for his training in the Marines, and by taking 15 to 18 credit hours each semester, Ellis earned his bachelor’s in business administration in just two years. “When I think of business, I associate it with things I learned in the Marines—discipline and professionalism, and being introduced to exciting and new situations,” he says.
A yearlong internship at Maritz Motivation Solutions recently led to a full-time job offer with the company. Ellis’s new role as an associate account executive will help him achieve his goal of working in a client-facing role and adding value to an organization.
“I’ve always believed, and the Marine Corps emphasized it even more, that the quality of work you produce is a representation of who you are,” Ellis says. “The Marine Corps and Maryville have really been stepping stones for me to now move forward in my career.”
Before beginning his next chapter, however, Ellis wrapped up his experience at Maryville by delivering a 2015 Commencement address. Chosen by classmates and faculty to represent nontraditional students, his speech focused on the importance of finding mentors and challenging yourself.
“A lot of my teachers ended up being mentors and coaches,” he says. “They’ve given me so much more than just a basic college education. They provided me with a sense of community, a sense of caring, a sense of actually wanting students to succeed.”
Ellis’s father, Michael Ellis, passed away from cancer, the result of Agent Orange poisoning in Vietnam, when his son was just 2 months old. “I’ve always hoped my dad would be proud of what I’ve done, and I can honestly say I think he is,” Ellis says.