ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A delayed dream is finally coming true for a U.S. Marine.
Cpl. Michael Jernigan is about to graduate from USF St. Petersburg, but the pomp and circumstance awaiting his commencement has involved years of struggle and determination.
The 33-year-old actually dropped out of college once, before he joined the Marines. "I was finally in a position where I knew I was making a difference," he says of joining the military.
But in August 2004, he was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. The impact crushed his entire forehead. He lost both his eyes and, after 30 major surgeries in 12 months, he struggled to figure out what was next.
"I kind of decided I needed a challenge. I wanted to do things with my life," he says. "So I decided to go back to college."
Cpl. Jernigan started at community college and transferred to Georgetown before realizing his true calling was in his hometown of St. Pete. He majored in history at USFSP, and was elected to serve on his school's student government.
But it's not a journey he's had to travel alone. He credits his family and his wife, who graduated alongside him with a degree in psychology. There's even been the owner of the campus tavern, Tom Herzhauser, who's shared friendship and food with him over the years.
"His confidence is really striking," says Herzhauser. "He's been a true inspiration."
And of course, there's been his guide dog, Brittani, who's attended every class with him. Her constant presence has inspired the next phase of his life: to become the outreach coordinator for Southeastern Guide Dogs.
"If you really, really want something, and you're willing to work for it, if you're willing to put in the hours of labor, then anything's attainable," Jernigan says.