Waldorf man receives college degree after experiencing life's ups and downs

September 13, 2022

Westlake High School, CSM and SNHU Graduate and Combat Veteran Launches New Career as Musician

This story is being reprinted in its entirety with permission from Southern Maryland Newspapers. The story appeared in the Southern Maryland Newspaper's Sept. 9 edition

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Nathaniel Lohn, who started earning his bachelor’s degree at College of Southern Maryland before finishing it 10 years later with Southern New Hampshire University, holds up a photo of himself supporting the late Sen. Bob Dole during George H.W. Bush’s funeral in 2018. 

Matthew Lohn said his son, Nathan, has always achieved what he’s wanted to achieve, and that was plain to see when Nathan accepted his degree from Southern New Hampshire University in a ceremony Aug. 31 at the College of Southern Maryland’s La Plata campus.

The framed bachelor’s degree in American history was earned as part of a transfer agreement between the two institutions and was the culmination of a long, 10-year journey for the 36-year-old that began at CSM, took a detour into Iraq, and veered back into Maryland.

“It was amazing, just everybody flying in and coming together,” Nathan Lohn said of the ceremony, which included guest speakers and a small performance from himself, an acoustic guitarist. “I felt so honored. Today was right up there for sure [in career highlights].”

snhu3.jpgCSM Provost and Vice-President of Learning Rodney Redmond, pictured right presenting Lohn with the CSM Veteran's Coin, shared a story with the audience about how his father was teaching him to drive in the family’s backyard and Rodney wanted to stop once it started hailing.

Redmond said his father told him to “keep moving forward and you’ll be in a better place as long as you keep driving, and today I’ll say to you Nate, ‘You kept driving, you weathered many storms. There were obstacles that may have appeared to derail your progress but you kept driving and today you’re in a much better place.”

But that wasn’t always the case. After graduating from Westlake High School in 2004, Lohn attended CSM, though things didn’t go well that first semester.

“I was just not doing very well and wasn’t able to focus,” Lohn said, adding that there were ongoing family as well. “I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t mature enough to really settle down and put my best foot forward.”

He decided to join the military, in part because he idolized his father, who was in the U.S. Army and an explosive ordnance disposal instructor in Indian Head.

“I always wanted to fill in those footsteps but it was a big decision, especially then because I knew I was going to Iraq,” said Lohn, who became a combat medic for the 62nd Engineer Battalion in Baghdad. “I just felt that was a good calling for me. I love my country and always felt like if I don’t go somebody’s going to go in my shoes.”
He said the experience — he was there for a year — made him grow up fast.

“For sure [it was an eye-opening experience],” he said. “You grow up so quickly and learn so quickly that life can be so short and violent, and to really cherish every single day that you have and that’s ahead of you.”

He had thoughts about how his life would have been if he was still at CSM, but it also made him “seize the day a bit more and really take to heart what I was doing.”
When he returned stateside, Lohn was stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Eisenhower Executive Health where he met former Sen. Bob Dole, who was having knee replacement surgery.

After a few years’ hiatus to take care of family matters, Lohn returned to Walter Reed in 2017 and left in 2021.

He then became Dole’s chief caregiver and the two immediately struck up a friendship.
“He felt like a grandfather to me,” Lohn said. “He was always urging me and pushing me and when I told him I was on my way to getting a 4.0 [GPA at SNHU] his eyes just lit up. It really meant something to him, and that really pushed me and really made me want to make this happen for him.”

The two were thrust into the limelight when Lohn supported Dole, who had limited mobility in his right hand due to an injury in World War II, who then saluted during George H.W. Bush’s funeral in 2018.

“He told me he wanted me to pick him up and I wasn’t ready for that,” Lohn said of Dole, who died on Feb. 2 at the age of 98. “I was standing on the wrong side to pick him up because his disability was on that side so it was just, ‘OK, we’ll do this real quick,’ and he didn’t even know he was going to do. Later he said, ‘I just wanted to get up and it felt like the right thing to salute my commander-in-chief.’”

Because he was able to use credits he had earned at CSM as well as military credits, Lohn needed just 25 credits to earn his degree, which he did July 4. His mother, Noemi, is also a CSM alumni.

“This wonderful bond between CSM and SNHU made it seamless,” Lohn said.
Lohn, who was a substitute teacher last year in Washington, D.C., has also been playing gigs with his one-man acoustic looping show, Doc Lohn.

“Oh it blows me away, all the time,” Lohn said of his life’s journey to this point. “I just kind of think that I’ve led a pretty crazy life, a pretty full life at 36 years of age and I’m just thankful that I’ve had wonderful people to help me through the journey. I learned from Sen. Dole that no one’s going to tell your story for you.”

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