Matthew Eaton is a semester and a half away from graduating with an associate’s degree from Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Mississippi.
It’s a simple statement of fact for the 30-year-old, but Eaton’s road to the seemingly simple step of graduation isn’t what anyone would call routine.
Instead, he had to travel halfway around the world to realize he wanted to do something he had been doing since he was a kid.
“I think at 12 years old I took the motor off the lawn mower and replaced it with another one,” Eaton said. “I would work on anything. I just get a lot of joy out of taking stuff apart. I guess because I’m in my own little world by myself when I’m fixing something.”
Eaton comes by that joy honestly.
“It’s something me and my daddy always shared. Out of all the kids, I’m the one that’s a spitting image of him. He can work on stuff and do everything, and I can, too,” Eaton said. And even over the phone, you could tell he was smiling as he started saying the next part. “But my momma says I’m a little better at it. So, I guess I learned everything he did and took it up a notch.”
When Eaton graduated high school, he enrolled at ICC. Despite his obvious passion, he didn’t enroll to do anything with his hands. Instead, he went to school with the intention of studying business.
That idea was short-lived.
“I went to [ICC] for a semester after high school before going to work on pipelines [in Texas]”, he said. “I was young and dumb, I guess you could say.”
Not at all.
Like many of us at that age, Eaton wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. But after a few years in the Lone Star State, Eaton’s vision for his future became clearer. It was there he decided he would do what his older brother and his younger brother were doing, as well as what his uncle did and his grandpa did – and that’s join the military.
“I thought it was something I wanted to do. It was my duty to at least go one time.”
Guided by those brave, courageous words, Eaton enrolled in the National Guard in 2015.
“I decided to go because I needed some way to pay for college, too,” he said. “And I knew they were about to deploy so I went ahead and joined where I could go overseas.”
Eaton was deployed to Syria, and his main duty there was base security. He manned his posts alone in 12-hour shifts, with his only entertainment being a grand view of the Syrian desert and a seemingly endless amount of time to think.
“I got older and wiser, and going overseas made me grow up a lot,” Eaton said.
So, in 2019, after working on pipelines in Texas and traveling halfway across the world to serve his country, Eaton went back to the place he left after one semester over a decade ago – Itawamba Community College.
“Now I make all A’s and B’s. In high school, I didn’t do that.”
He’s also not studying business. Instead, he’s studying electrical engineering.
“Matthew is a very dedicated student. The self-discipline he gained from his military training is evident. It is always an honor to have military personnel in the classroom,” said his Electrical Technology Instructor Jeff Franks. “Matthew will make someone a great Electrical Technician and employee very soon.”
As he closes in on graduation, Eaton’s getting good practice, too. He currently does electrical maintenance at Caterpillar in Corinth through a contract company called Amentum.
“I’m just glad to be graduating,” he said. “I guess it’s more of, I finally have a job that I’m gonna be happy doing and enjoy.”
Eaton said his scholarship from the Mississippi Manufacturers Association is helping alleviate many of his college expenses, and he’s looking forward to pursuing a bachelor’s degree through online coursework when he leaves ICC. He also said he likes the idea of staying in the National Guard to become an officer.
But, at the end of the day, he’s found his career path, one that he and his dad knew was there all along.
“He’s very proud of me,” Eaton said. “He knew that was always what I wanted to do.”