It’s an extraordinary and challenging time to be Senior Class President at Williamson. Students are living at home, while going online for class and shop amid the coronavirus pandemic. Adjusting to the new normal, student leader Christopher Thomas teleconferences with President Michael Rounds and face-times with his fellow officers, talking about alternatives to the cancelled graduation ceremony and time-honored dinner dance.
Williamson has provided Chris with the tools he needs to face such unexpected challenges. The college has also offered him a safe environment in which he could heal from a difficult homelife.
Chris’ parents divorced when he was seven. He remembers the emotional pull he felt between him and his mother and father, the pressure to love one parent over the other, he says. For years after his parents’ split, Chris watched his mother struggle to raise three kids on her own. She worked as a hair stylist, putting in 12-hour days. Even though things improved financially when she remarried, Chris’ mother continued to work hard while two more children were added to his newly blended family.
During his junior year in high school, Chris decided to reach out to his father. He went to live with him in New Jersey, but after six months, he came back home, frustrated by having to live away from his mother.
His acceptance to Williamson was both exciting and a welcome relief. “Not only was it a great school, I liked that there was a structure and schedule,” Chris says. “I was into it…with all that was going on at home.”
Family problems spilled over into his freshman year. He turned to Williamson chaplain Reverend Mark Specht for guidance. The two met every week for helpful talks. “I love Rev. He’s my guy!”
Chris continued to sort out the difficult relationship he had with his father who also attended Williamson but dropped out after the first semester to become a diesel mechanic.
Chris struggled that first year. A mild concussion from a football injury on campus made it hard for him to focus and concentrate on the Power Plant Technology curriculum. But he got the instructional support he needed, staying every day after class for extra help.
Chris took on more challenges at Williamson. He got involved in student government and was elected Class Treasurer. When both the Vice-President and President stepped down, Chris was encouraged to step in as President. Grateful for the chance to step out of his comfort zone, Chris picked up the torch and provided his class with much-needed leadership and a vision of the kind of mark the Class of 2020 would leave on Williamson.
Director of Food Services Tim Burbage has been advising student class representatives for almost 30 years. He says that Chris’ enthusiasm has stood out. “He was pretty positive the whole three years. Even after his football injury, he always had a bright, upbeat personality. Chris is ambitious and has high expectations,” says Mr. Burbage.
Chris has always been industrious. In high school, he got a job at a local Wawa, and, after just 18 months, was invited to help set up a new store. Chris worked weekends at Wawa throughout his time at Williamson. Committed to the company, Chris saw he would advance if he stayed on after graduation, but he decided to accept a position with California Boiler, one of the companies he interned with. He will be moving West with his fiancée as soon as he graduates. Leaving his family and the town that he loves has been a big decision for him, but he wants to “restart his life a little” and knows it’s a risk worth taking.
Chris is back home taking his final classes on-line while working 40-hour weeks at Wawa. He is glad to be able to support the community as an essential worker during this time. On his way to work in the morning, he passes by signs saying, “Stay Home, Save Lives” and “Thank you, Health Care Heroes.” He waves to his brother, a Collingdale trash collector, on the back of his trash truck. Chris is especially proud of his mother, another essential worker, now working at a local pharmacy.
On a recent shift at Wawa, Chris was surprised to see his father ride up on his motorcycle. Chris had just gone on break so he was glad they could catch up. He shared with him the good news about graduating Williamson and the job awaiting him in California. His father told Chris that he always wanted to go to California when he was his age. He seemed happy and proud of his son’s accomplishments, Chris says.
While memories of senior traditions for the Class of 2020 may be altered by the pandemic, Chris will always remember his experience at Williamson and what it meant to him.
“It really does change your life,” Chris says. “Such a small school opens up such huge opportunity.”
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