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The grass isn't always greener

At the Northern Shores campus coffee shop, the sounds of coffee beans are grinding, getting ready to be made into a fresh drink. The smell of coffee intoxicates the air from corner to corner along with loud chatting by college students.

Sitting at a table, occasionally glancing to the left out the window, Aaron Johnston comes here regularly to take a break from his long days at school. This college junior wears a short sleeved button down shirt with jeans and slightly jelled hair, blending in with most students at UMD.

But Johnston is 31, has a wife and two kids, and feels like he has more motivation than and 21 year old does.

Once thinking that college was not for him, Johnston is now 31, starting when he was 27. It took him eight years to figure out where his true passion was.

“I never realized until I came back to school how much I loved to learn,? said Johnston, “or where my true talents were.?

Studying late does not seem like very hard work for Johnston, like it would most college students.

“The human body is capable of so much more than you realize,? he discovered his years before starting college. “Your body will give up way before you mind does.?

For most of his years after high school Johnston went to Alaska to work on a fishing boat for six months of the year. He worked 20 hour days, seven days a week, with only being able to shower the smell of dead fish and sea water off him once a week. At the end of the six months he would be paid anywhere from $40,000- 70,000 depending on how well the boat's crew did.

“One of the things I learned while fishing was a pretty solid work ethic,? said Johnston.

During the six months Johnston had off from work, he met the woman he wanted to marry and have children with. After going to work for six month and then coming back, he knew the relationship would not work out. Johnston decided he would have to go back to school and eventually hold down a normal job if he wanted to have a family.

“At first it felt like I was being forced to go back to school,? said Johnston, “but it's a perk.?

After going to Lake Superior College for two years to finish his general classes, Johnston is now enrolled at UMD as a cell biology major. He takes classes year round and will be graduating in a year and a half. After graduating he plans to continue his education at UMD in medical school.

Johnston said that he finds it tough being back at school, but he loves the hard work. He knows now what he can achieve. His motivation is his love for biology, but mainly his wife and two children.

“After being forced to work that hard,? he said, “it gave me a sense of what I could accomplish.?

An old skipper that Johnston knew gave what Johnston called the best advice to success and one of his most important life lessons.

“It's the guy that works harder that gets ahead,? Johnston said he would hear quite frequently on the boat.

Every year after he was finally done with working he would tell himself that he would never go back to work on the boat. The main reason he would go back was for the money.

There were times on the boat where he would feel like swimming the 14 miles to Russia. The only thing that kept him from jumping was the thought that it would all be worth the money he was making. After you're able to handle being out at sea, it's a great feeling, said Johnston.

“I actually get a high from it,? he said. “It's like switching to autopilot.?

Johnston thinks about his years before college as an experience he needed to do before being able to go back to school. He was able to get all the partying stages out of him. He says that he realizes students have a hard time keeping focused at school.

“It is easy to daydream about being somewhere else,? Johnston said. “You always think that the grass is greener, but it really isn't.?

“Sometimes you just have to take time off for yourself,? he said. “It doesn't necessarily mean you take ten years off,? but if you do what you want to do “It will make you a happier person.?