The deadline to apply for student loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and the PSLF limited waiver is October 31, 2022.

If you have been employed in public service, by the government or a non-profit organization, then you may be eligible to have your debt forgiven.

This announcement reminded me of why I have student debt to begin with. I decided not to join the military.

I was in basic training to join the Army when I realized that I didn’t want to be a chemical operations specialist, responsible for decontaminating areas of toxic or potentially hazardous materials.

It was not a reflection of my personal interests or talents but was my assigned MOS, or military occupation specialty code, after taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test, or ASVAB, the test given to determine eligibility for military service.

I was 18 years old, and I thought going to the military was my only option. It is also a part of my family’s tradition. Both my aunts and uncles are proud members and veterans.

If we could not figure out what we wanted to do with our lives, then we were told to go into the military. If we lacked discipline, needed structure or money to survive, then we were directed to join the military.

We could either get a job or enlist. Blue collar workers and farmers, there was no mention of going to a college or university.

Residents of an impoverished rural community, it was the only way that we were going to see the world. There wasn’t even a library or a park within walking distance. We would have to travel “into town” to check out a book or take a spin on the merry-go-round.

Still, when I moved to upstate New York at 16 years old, I took this mindset with me. Though now a city girl, you couldn’t take the country girl out of me.

A would-be first-generation college student, I didn’t have an example or the money to pay for post-secondary education. There were no framed college degrees on the wall. Instead, there were plenty of pictures of my relatives in their military uniforms.

At Grover Cleveland High School in Buffalo, New York, my school counselor introduced me to a college prep program called Upward Bound. It took a single summer on campus with upperclassmen to realize that I wanted to attend.

But before I could think of applying, I had to consider how I was going to cover the cost of attendance. There were a couple of college recruiters at my high school’s “College Fair” but there were also Army recruiters.

Without a second thought, I signed up for basic training. After graduation, I packed a small bag and fell in line.

“What makes the green grass grow? Blood and guts! Blood and guts! Blood and guts!”

This was a call and response that I couldn’t get behind. I wouldn’t kill people. At 18 years old, I became a conscientious objector.

I left before completing basic training, applied for college and was accepted. Being the first to attend from my family had its advantages. With grants, academic scholarships and awards, I graduated debt free.

But graduate school was another story. I enrolled in seminary and joined “the army of the Lord.” It was a full circle moment for me.

Then and now, I wonder how different my life would have been if I had pledged my allegiance to defend my country. But it is not lost on me that for my family and so many others, the financial freedom afforded through military service was the deciding factor.

Without those experiencing poverty, I believe that the military would have a recruitment problem. For many, living in poverty is unforgivable.

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