Heading to college is hard for anyone. But have you tried being at least 30 years older than most of your classmates? James Hatch did.
Who is he? Hatch had a career in the Navy — including more than 20 years as a SEAL — before heading to Yale University.
- He was a member of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and was involved in 150 missions across Iraq, Bosnia, Africa and Afghanistan.
- His military career ended when he was shot and badly wounded in Afghanistan in 2009.
- Now he’s studying at Yale as an Eli Whitney scholar, as part of a program for nontraditional students.
- NPR first talked to Hatch in 2019, when he arrived in New Haven, CT., as a 52-year-old freshman. He said he struggled to fit in at first: « I thought, man, I really have no business being here. But then, you know, things progressed and I could actually contribute. »
- Fast forward to this fall and the 56-year-old is starting his senior year as a humanities major.
What has he learnt?
- A lot can happen in four years, and talking to All Things Considered’s Mary Louise Kelly now, there is one bit of advice senior-year Hatch says he would give his freshman-year self: you’ve got a lot to learn.
- « At first, James Hatch was pretty scared, but I don’t know that he was all that humble with his opinions about the world, » he said. « The James Hatch you’re speaking to now, I am the champion of the humble pie, man. »
- As a humanities major, he has tackled some of the greatest works of literature (Moby Dick is one of his favorites) and he believes literature has been the « connective tissue » between humans for thousands of years.
- For Hatch, humanity is that throughline. Whether it’s Captain Ahab or Achilles in the Iliad, humans and their choices (good or bad) are more common than we realize. « You’re not all that original, you know, » he surmises.
Want to learn more? Listen to the Consider This episode examining two years since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
How his past is informing his education:
- Hatch has thought deeply about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan two years ago.
- At the time, Hatch did an interview with CNN. He said the U.S. military should do an « after-action » – a debrief on every choice and event in an effort to learn from them: « Where we tear apart our conduct, all the choices we made, » he said. « Because if you don’t seriously reflect on the choices made in tough situations, you’re probably going to make mistakes again. »
- Yale’s Dean of the Jackson School of Global Affairs saw that interview and told Hatch they should do exactly what he suggested – but as a class. Hatch got to question his former commanders, even the Taliban.
- He told NPR it’s important to talk to people and reflect, even if that’s not the easiest choice:
« Look, the military is kind of, I think, the easy button. And when we’ve had problems internationally, the military is kind of the first resource. And I just think we need to stop that. And that means we need to talk to people that we don’t want to talk to. I sure as hell didn’t want to talk to the Taliban, you know, but I think it’s important that we do that kind of thing because there’s a lot of dead Americans and Afghans who paid the price for some choices that were made. And I don’t know if there’s enough reflection on all of that for those choices. »
So, what now?
- Hatch is set to graduate this coming spring.
- In the meantime, he continues to work with the nonprofit he founded, Spike’s K9 Fund, which is dedicated to the training and care of working dogs.