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Veteran turns his life around through faith, education

Public affairs grad with challenging past plans career as police officer


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June 23, 2023

Nick Bedwell is wrapping up an online Arizona State University bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude. He overcame years of setbacks to earn his diploma through perseverance and faith.

Bedwell said his father “left the picture” when he was young. Later, to care for his ill mother, Bedwell said he had no choice but to give up plans to attend college out of state. She lost her battle with cancer in 2009.

Nick Bedwell poses wearing a veteran stole and smiling against an ASU sign background.
Nick Bedwell

Today, Bedwell said he feels lucky to have found something that guided him the way she once did — out of despair and ultimately into a line of graduates in May to shake hands with the dean.

The Tacoma, Washington, resident is researching a career as a police officer, as he expects to receive a bachelor’s degree in public service and public policy with a concentration in emergency management and homeland security in August from ASU’s School of Public Affairs via ASU Online. The school is in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Even without a father, Bedwell describes his childhood as “a phenomenal hardship of endless chores earning my keep, Little League sports supported by my mother in the stands and BMX bikes.”

He said he calls that time phenomenal because he spent it with his mother, whom he called his best friend.

The pain of losing her led him away from his rural Nevada hometown and into trouble. Bedwell went to Las Vegas, “where you can easily find the wrong things and the wrong people,” he said. “It’s easy if you don’t have the guidance. You can easily get lost.”

Bedwell said his path to success included discovering his Christian faith, taking up physical fitness training and serving as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army.

After leaving Las Vegas, Bedwell returned home to Gardnerville, Nevada, where he learned he owed thousands of dollars — that he didn’t have — in overdue mortgage payments on the house he grew up in. Family and friends had abandoned him, and soon Bedwell was sleeping in parks and laundromats. To be presentable each day, he paid daily admission to a swim center to use its shower facilities.

Bedwell found a job at a Carson City, Nevada, restaurant and he bicycled 17 miles one way from where he slept at night. Depending on the time of year, he had to make the long trek in hot, rainy or snowy weather, all frequently experienced in the Sierra Nevada.

“Riding your bicycle on U.S. 395 is no walk in the park,” he said.

Eventually, Bedwell saved enough money to buy an inexpensive car and moved to nearby Reno.

“I became motivated to change my life, better my existence. I could either do drugs, be a bum, become a nobody — or take another path,” Bedwell said. “I could be relying on Christ, to become a better man of God.”

He started working out with Crossfit, eventually excelling at bodybuilding and gaining strength inside and out. In 2012, he said, he made a decision.

Seeing himself as “a 27-, 28-year-old boy, I needed to man up,” he said.

In 2013, Bedwell joined the Army, following in the footsteps of his father, a Vietnam War veteran, and his grandfather, who had survived the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

“(The Army) cracked the whip, like my mom used to do. They put me on task to achieve more than I could ever achieve before. I bought into their ‘be all that you can be’ slogan.”

Bedwell served in the U.S., the Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. At one point, a sergeant major advised him to go to school. He began online studies at ASU. Today, he wants to start a career and earn a master’s degree. He’s also thinking about entering politics someday.

He’s intent on proving you don’t need to be anywhere near Las Vegas to hit a jackpot in life.

“I did all the wrong things in life that caused my downfall in this existence. I turned to God, and my life changed,” he said. “I am now a clean, fit, healthy veteran of the U.S. Army, who is a boxing and snowboard champion, Mr. Olympia stage competitor, and I will graduate from ASU with a (bachelor’s degree) in homeland security, magna cum laude.”

Read on to find out more about Bedwell’s ASU journey.

Note: Answers may have been edited for length or clarity.

Question: What do you plan to do with your degree?

Answer: I will pursue attending a police academy in the fall of 2023 in Southern California. Once I graduate from the academy, I will work as a police officer for a few years while simultaneously earning my Master of Arts degree in homeland security and eventually become a detective for a police department. Long term goal: I want to be Nick Bedwell, Republican governor of the state of California.

Q: How did your time at Watts College prepare you for life after college?

A:  Being a student at ASU, and importantly Watts College, the biggest takeaway for me in preparation for life after college is using your voice effectively and efficiently. It is important to be an educated man or woman who can speak in such ways that can draw positive attention to you because of your intellect, and to have the ability to hold a conversation while bringing depth, substance and intelligence to the discussion.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: I was jumping out of a plane conducting an airfield seizure in Latvia during Operation Atlantic Resolve in preparation for getting deployed to Afghanistan. I knew that even though I was a physically fit Airborne Infantry soldier, I needed to be a mentally smart one, too. I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, so why not pursue a degree in homeland security so I can utilize my skills and build on them not only in the battlefield, but in the boardroom as well.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Arizona State University is the No. 1 in the United States and top 10 in the world for global impact. ASU is also named the most innovative university in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. With all these amazing awards, plus being able to attend and work with faculty and students involved with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, there was no other option forecasting my future for my education, well over schools such as MIT, Stanford and Harvard.

Q: Was there a faculty or staff member at ASU who made a difference for you?

A: Each individual professor had brought something different to the classroom showing their individuality, as each had their own requirements, curriculum conditions and course program standards for students to be successful. I do have to say my student success coach, Rebecca West, is the standout staff member at ASU. She has been there for me through thick and thin, in support of my ups and downs, classroom dilemmas, academic successes and the ins and outs of my experience at ASU. Without her professional academic support, I don’t know where I would be in my pursuit of my degree.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: For most (students), I am 16 to 20 years older than you are, and if I could go back and do it all over again I would, but I would change these three areas:

  • We all owe everything to God, so start your day with an attitude of gratitude and be blessed for who you are, where you came from and be thankful for the beautiful and difficult challenging road ahead. The degree isn’t the goal, it is the man and woman whom you become that is most important.
  • Preparation plus opportunity equals success. Your purpose in life is exactly that: your purpose; however, the pursuit of your greatness will involve self-mastery, which will be extremely difficult. But you one day will master yourself in body, being, balance and business.
  • Stand up for what you believe in, even if it means standing alone.

Q: What is your life motto in one sentence?

A:  Life is precious and you only get one shot, one chance to make an impact, so create a legacy of you — or of your family name — make your decision and live with your decision, and make wise choices.   

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