Randy Cardon Wins Founders Day Scholarship
U Student, Marine Honored for His Service and Perseverance
Randy W. Cardon, a University of Utah student and gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps who has served five deployments, including two tours in Iraq, has been selected to receive the 2012 Founders Day Scholarship.
"We welcome and recognize a truly accomplished University of Utah student with this year's Founders Day Scholarship," said U Interim President Lorris Betz, in his remarks introducing Cardon at the Founders Day Banquet on Feb. 22 at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.
The University of Utah Alumni Association awards the $6,000 scholarship annually to recognize students who have overcome difficult life circumstances or challenges and who have given service to the University and the community.
“There are a few attributes about Randy’s character that stand out—the strength of his integrity, his enthusiastic commitment and drive to become better, and his sense of duty, honor, and service,” wrote Kathleen Nicoll, an assistant professor of geography at the U, in a letter recommending Cardon for the scholarship. “Randy is truly someone who sees opportunities instead of obstacles, and he finds a way to stay motivated and optimistic, and to inspire others.”
Cardon, 30, attributes much of his resilience and mental toughness to his childhood experiences growing up in a family that struggled through financial hardships and other adversity. He was born in St. George, Utah, and grew up working with his family on various ranches in southern Utah and a dairy farm near Shelley, Idaho. It was a hard life—the family of five at one point lived in a 19-foot camping trailer in the southern Utah desert that at times had no running water. Cardon’s mother competed in barrel racing in rodeos so she could use her winnings and pawn trophy saddles to help buy groceries. And kids in the local schools picked on Randy because he had to use duct tape to hold his boots together. “I didn’t want to go to school,” Cardon recollects now. “School was secondary to living. I had to work to survive, and school wasn’t very nice because of things like that.”
His parents divorced when he was 8, and his stepfather took in Cardon and his two sisters and treated them as his own. But the family still struggled financially, and Cardon worked to help the family with the ranch and dairy work from the time he was 11. When a Marine Corps recruiter found him at age 15, Cardon says he saw a way to opportunity. “I wanted to join the Marine Corps to escape the small town,” he says. “I thought of it as a way to have a future.”
Cardon had missed many days of school and wasn’t on track to graduate, so the recruiter helped him sit down with the high-school counselor and work out a plan for him to get his diploma. He went to summer school between his sophomore, junior, and senior years, and he attended night school during his junior year to make up missed work. “I did all that—I did double duty—and I graduated a half year early,” Cardon says.
From there, he went straight into Marine Corps boot camp. “I found it quite easy,” he says. “A lot of it was common sense-oriented. A lot of it was being outside working hard.” And his upbringing had prepared him well for that. “The Marine Corps was a blessing,” he says.
He attended recruit training in 2nd Battalion Fox Company in San Diego, Calif., where he became the platoon honor man and was meritoriously promoted to lance corporal. He continued to rise through the ranks during postings in Washington, D.C., and Camp Lejeune, N.C. His first deployment came in 2002, when he spent seven months on a ship that stopped in different spots in Africa. After that came the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and as a squad leader and platoon sergeant, he spent seven months with his unit, pushing from the Kuwaiti border to Baghdad. Once the tour was up, he returned to San Diego to be a drill instructor.
Four years later, he was back for another tour of duty in Iraq, this time in Ramadi for another seven months, as a platoon sergeant. Two more deployments followed—on a ship in the Middle East in 2008, and in Mongolia in 2009, when he was one of four Marines selected for a mobile training team for the Mongolian army. He was promoted to gunnery sergeant in 2009, and in 2010, was picked to be assistant Marine officer instructor at the University of Utah. “After sucking in the 120-degree dust of Iraq and running for my life, I now enjoy the casual walk to classes,” he says.
Cardon says he chose the U in order to be closer to his 10-year-old daughter, Elise, who lives in the Salt Lake City area. “I thought this would be a chance to spend a lot of time with her,” he says, “and let her know education is important.” Cardon, who grew to appreciate nature during his childhood years working outdoors, is majoring in environmental sustainability, and he hopes to work as an environmental safety officer on a Marine Corps base after he graduates with his bachelor’s degree. “I think the military has a long way to go before they’re environmentally friendly,” he says, and he wants to help address the problem.
Meanwhile, he coordinates the Marines’ local Toys for Tots effort during the December holidays, and he spends his summers as a drill instructor at the Officer Candidate School boot camp in Quantico, Va. “He stands head and shoulders above others on multiple levels of merit,” Nicoll wrote. “What stands out is Randy’s degree of motivation, his intellectual engagement, his fitness, the tremendous depth of his character, and his idealistic commitment.”
Gunnery Sergeant Randy W. Cardon, left, shown here with his daughter, Elise, is the recipient of the 2012 Founders Day Scholarship at the U.