WATERVILLE, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – College graduation season is in full effect, but this year’s commencement ceremony at Thomas College marks another victory for a special graduate.

At 18-years-old, Phil Exner, of Oakland, joined the Marines. He was deployed a year later and eventually led his own convoy of marines to protect a 3-star US General in Afghanistan.

By 23, Phil came to a crossroads, deciding to come back to Maine to receive a degree in business at Thomas College.

He was told transitioning to civilian life would be a difficult challenge however, he said his experience in the military helped him in school.

Fighting overseas and witnessing third-world problems made him appreciate his education. He said writing papers and presentations were minuscule compared to the real life struggles he saw and experienced in the military.

At 27, Exner will graduate from Thomas College on May 13. His hard work has earned him a spot in a fighter flight pilot school for the military. Out of 7,000 applicants, only 75 spots were available. Most of the other applicants were Ivy League graduates.

He hopes to be a fighter pilot with the navy for eight years, a requirement for his long term goal of becoming an astronaut.