Shane Boyd always knew he'd graduate from college.
He knew it when he quit a retail job that seemed like a dead end.
He knew it when he sweated through 130-degree days in Iraq.
He knew it when he came home from war with injuries that require him to use wrist crutches.
And he knew it when he began working at a machine shop in Medford while starting college again.
"It was just a matter of how I was going to get it," he said.
On Saturday, the 38-year-old Boyd will graduate, one of 1,356 students awarded degrees or certificates at Southern Oregon University. He will be the student speaker at the commencement.
"I think that is just an inspired choice by the university," said SOU math professor Kemble Yates, who has taught Boyd in numerous classes.
Yates described Boyd — who has a double major in math and sociology and a minor in philosophy — as a student always engaged and ready to ask questions that bring the rest of the class into the discussion.
"He's one of these people who inspire confidence," Yates said. "When he does say something, people listen."
Michael Shultz, a friend, study partner and fellow graduate on Saturday, said he has noticed that many college students tend to repeat what they had read — or "regurgitate" — during class discussions. Not Boyd, he said.
"All of his contributions are his own," Shultz said. "Everything he says is a result of careful, critical thought."
Boyd's trek to SOU began after his 1992 graduation from Crater High School. In 1994, he began at Rogue Community College, but soon moved into retail and in those years he worked his way up to management. That job sent him to Kent, Wash., and there he was offered a promotion that he ultimately decided would lead to nowhere.
"I knew if I kept doing that I would be doing the same thing in 10 years," he said, which he knew would likely be the end of his chances to go back to school.
So he joined the Army in 2003 for several reasons. First, it offered housing and medical benefits for his family — wife, Kelly, and daughters, Paige, who is 18 now, and Bronwyn, who is 13. Daughter Molly, now 7, was born since then.
"I was doing it for them," he said. "The whole purpose in trying to better myself is to try to make things better for my family."
The Army also offered Boyd a chance to learn a trade. And he would have the opportunity to go to college once he was out.
In 2004, he was sent to Iraq as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He worked as a machinist in the 1st Infantry Division at a base near the city of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein.
He remembers sand.
"It is a fine dust, and it gets everywhere," he said. "You never get away from the sand."
There was more than sand, though. Camel spiders, scorpions, geckos, rats and vipers sometimes roamed the dilapidated barracks with no air conditioning. Enemies set up improvised explosive devices right outside the base's gates, though U.S. soldiers were most often able to disable them. Soldiers roasted in the intense heat while wearing full body armor. And death was a possibility.
"Nobody comes back unscathed," Boyd said.
Boyd suffered cartilage damage in his left foot before he deployed to Iraq. Once there, he dealt with more injuries. He said he blew out both knees, tore muscles in both femurs, damaged vertebrae in the sacral region and blew out a disc in his back.
Back in Germany after his deployment, doctors attempted to repair the cartilage in his foot, but couldn't get it to grow back, he said. Boyd was medically discharged in 2006.
But that did not sway his desire for college or his determination to get a degree, according to those who know him.
"I have never seen Shane feel sorry for himself or complain about what has happened to him," Shultz said.
When Boyd returned to the Rogue Valley, he began to work as a machinist at General Machine Works in Medford. Then he started back to school part-time at RCC and eventually transferred to SOU.
Both Yates and Prakash Chenjeri, a philosophy professor and coordinator for the philosophy program, say Boyd is one of their favorite students and the type who will follow a professor to his or her office for discussion after class.
Chenjeri described Boyd as not only a good student, "but a good student who will be doing great things later."
Boyd, who is graduating with a 3.53 GPA, has been accepted into the Master of Arts in Teaching program at SOU and will start in that this summer. He is also a Ronald E. McNair Program Scholar.
Boyd said he would probably advise his daughters to avoid the long path he took to graduation. But he doesn't wish he had done it differently.
"Because then I'd be someone else," he said. "I genuinely think I appreciate my degree and what it will do for me."
Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at email@example.com.