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Marine Corps turns Lemont native into scholar

Lemont native James Davidson will now pursue a doctorate in chemistry and on Tuesday was named an "Outstanding Chemistry Major" by North Central College.
Lemont native James Davidson will now pursue a doctorate in chemistry and on Tuesday was named an "Outstanding Chemistry Major" by North Central College.

LEMONT – Higher education and a career in science was not the obvious path for Lemont native James Davidson.

But a little more than eight years after getting medically discharged from the Marine Corps, the North Central College student is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, has an Outstanding Student award in his pocket and is planning to pursue a doctorate.

A self-described “lazy bum” in high school who didn’t care about class or his grades, Davidson is headed to the University of Utah, where he is pursuing a doctorate in analytical chemistry with a focus on fuel and aeronautical research.

A couple weeks into training in the Marine Corps, Davidson developed a high fever that was later diagnosed as pneumonia. After weeks of treatment, he returned to boot camp and graduated in October.

But before going to combat training, he was sent to the Naval Hospital, where extensive tests determined the lower lobe of his left lung was permanently damaged. He was medically discharged from the Marine Corps and returned to Lemont in March 2004.

Although it was frustrating at the time, Davidson said he can see now that it was all part of God’s plan for his life.

“I essentially got discharged about six months before I would have been sent to Iraq,” said Davidson, the son of Corinne and Paul Davidson of Lemont.

“If I never got sick, I could be dead now.”

It was in January of 2007 when the 2003 Lemont High School graduate started taking night classes at Moraine Valley while working as a maintenance man in Woodridge.

After the structure and discipline of being in the Marine Corps, Davidson found life as a student to be an adjustment, particularly being around other students.

“I would see students come in five minutes late, and I would totally want to smack them,” he said with a laugh. “I totally lost sight that that was me only a couple of years ago.”

In 2009, he had surgery to remove the damaged lobe in his lung. The nurse at Hines VA Hospital told him about changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill that would cover his tuition, so he enrolled at North Central College in fall 2011.

Thinking he would major in criminal justice, a general education chemistry class opened his eyes to the practical applications of chemistry, he said. Eventually, he switched his major.

He was drawn to analytical chemistry because “it’s about being perfect and being exact in what you do.”

Though he didn’t immediately go to college, Davidson would encourage other veterans to give higher education a try.

“If you’re covered by the GI Bill, you really have nothing to lose. It changed my life in no small way.”

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