Brandon Rivera

Aiken Technical College

"I wasn't sure if I could actually do this 16 years later. Aiken Tech provided that opportunity for me."

I was home-schooled. After finishing school, I joined the military and served six years. The first two years after getting out, I was a stay-at-home dad while my wife was still in the Marine Corps. When she finished her contract, we moved back to North Augusta. My grandfather was sick at the time, so I wanted to be here and let him see his grandkid. Three or four months after getting back, my wife was pregnant again, and this time we had my son. I went to work for the local GameStop for a few years, while my wife went back to get her degree at the University of South Carolina, Aiken. As soon as she got her degree, I left GameStop to get my degree. 

I was very nervous about getting my degree. I was 17 when I went to the Marine Corps. By the time I was going back to school, I was 31. That’s a long gap between school, so I was very nervous about going back. That’s why I chose Aiken Technical College. I wasn’t ready to go to a full four-year college. I just wanted to make sure college was the right path for me. I wasn’t sure if I could actually do this 16 years later. Aiken Tech provided that opportunity for me.

This is my story about making decisions to provide more for my family and be a good example for my kids.


What were your fears about going back to college?

Home school is very different from regular schooling. I was a little socially awkward going into the Marine Corps. The social aspect of college was something I just wasn’t used to. On the academic side I knew I was very smart, but it had been so long since I had been going to school and writing papers. I wasn’t sure I could focus. I figured I could test myself while pursuing my associate’s degree at Aiken Tech. If that worked out, I would continue further.


What did you learn along the way? 

Aiken Tech and its Student Veteran’s Organization provided me with a set of skills coming out of the Marine Corps. In any military background, you have a very different leadership style; it’a a very do-this-at-that-time mentality. Working with the team, I’ve been able to retain some of this do-this mentality, but also adapt and grow. 

When I was managing GameStop, my leadership style didn’t always mesh with everybody. I asked someone to do something and I expected them to do it. Aiken Tech really taught me that this model may not always work. You have to find different ways to get someone to do the things you need them to do, but also better understand themselves through the process. 


Tell us about someone who supported you through your journey? 

There is an accounting professor named Mr. White. My first two semesters at Aiken Tech I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to study, so I took a bunch of random classes to explore what I liked and didn’t. One of those classes was Accounting 101.

My second semester I took accounting 102, which inspired me to go into accounting. Any time I’ve had a question or was struggling with anything school-wise, I would go talk to Mr White. He would drop everything he was doing to be there for me and help me stay focused.

Now that I’m at USC Aiken, the professors are much different. They’ll help you and make sure you’re on the right path, but I don’t get the same feeling that they’re really invested in helping you succeed. Mr. White helped me stay on the right path. He wanted to make sure I was getting to where I wanted to be in life.


What’s next for you? 

I plan to get my Bachelor’s in accounting; I’m working on that now. In the long run, I might like to open my own accounting firm and be a CPA that goes in to audit other companies before they send in their taxes and their accounting paperwork. 

I also have two offers currently on the table if I can finish and get my degree in accounting and get my license to do it. One is getting a job at a casino in Maine, which my wife wants me to take because that’s where she’s from. She’d like to move back closer to her family. The other is for a guy that does equity loans and stuff like that for houses. He’s actually the company we’re going through right now to buy our new house. They’re always looking for good accountants on their team, and it pays well. It will provide more for my family.


What does getting your college education mean to you? 

Financially it means a lot to my family; it’s a much better job than just working retail. The biggest thing it means to me is setting that example for my children.

Education is very important to us. My wife is a third grade teacher. I was adopted by my grandparents. My grandfather has a degree, but by the time he adopted us he was older and retired. I didn’t really see the benefits of education. Once I had kids I knew I wanted to show them that education is really important. Even if you don’t go to a four-year college and get a degree in nuclear physics, any education can fulfill that constant need to improve one’s self. I want my kids to always be seeking out new information. 


What advice do you have for someone thinking about taking the next step in their educational journey? 

Don’t be afraid. People are resilient. When you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. I’m a big movie buff. I love that quote from A Cinderella Story, “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” I could’ve easily stopped and let fear stop me from going back to college — but I didn’t.