Sitting at Starbucks and facing Main Beach, Kevin Staight couldn't be farther from the Middle East, a region he's called home off and on for the last eight years.
On June 12, the 28-year-old Laguna native donned a cap and gown as the first graduate to earn a degree in Arabic from UC San Diego. In the fall, he plans to study international business in New York University's MBA program.
But he didn't care much for school while growing up in Laguna. Straight graduated from Laguna Beach High in 2000 with a 2.9 GPA and a lack of confidence after college rejections filled his mailbox.
"I wanted to do something important," he said.
That purpose came a year later when two planes barreled into two towers in New York City. Then President George W. Bush announced war.
He joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and was on active duty for four years, where he achieved the rank of sergeant. He was deployed to Iraq twice — five months in 2004 and seven months in 2005 — and fought in Fallujah.