Senior Carpenter Jean Obispo never knew his father who died when he was two years old. Helping to fill that void was a close circle of friends and faculty at Williamson, who have supported and encouraged him to succeed as a young man and a tradesman.
Williamson also stepped up by providing Jean a safe haven on campus where he could retreat on the weekends to protect himself from a difficult situation at home.
Born in Colombia, South America, Jean was brought to the U.S. by his mother who wanted him to have a better life. A young widow, Jean’s mother was an optometrist back home, but couldn’t afford to get licensed in the U.S. So, she cleaned houses and worked as a receptionist in doctors’ offices. After several years in New York, Jean’s mother moved with her young son to North Philadelphia, where she found work and a Colombian community.
His mother re-married when Jean was in high school. Although his stepfather had been living with them for years, Jean was still struggling to get along with him.
Meanwhile, Jean made the most of a vocational high school education. He worked half days in a co-op as an electrician for PTR Balor & Compactor. The same day he was offered a full-time job at PTR, Jean received his acceptance letter from Williamson. He was anxious to start working, but knew that a company like PTR would cap his salary at some point. A degree from Williamson would expand his career opportunities and increase his earnings.
Jean’s first semester at Williamson was rocky. When his freshman roommate left school, he felt lonely and desperate. He comforted himself by opening his father’s hand-written diary, given to him by his mother when he was in high school.
Cooking recipes, shopping lists, short phrases describing the day’s weather. Jean believes his father, preparing to move his family to the United States, was practicing his English. Imagining his father’s experience gave him strength to keep going.
By second semester, Jean felt more acclimated to Williamson. He would meet with new friends for Chess Club and Chapel Band where he played the guitar.
He credits his friends for helping him turn his life around. “We lift each other up because it’s not easy. Everybody’s there to build you up when you’re down.”
Freshman summer, Jean worked for his stepfather who is a general contractor. He quit over the insurmountable strain in their relationship, Jean says.
Without a job, Jean reached out to shop mate Ryan O’Donnell who was interning with J&M Contracting that summer. Ryan got his internship through Williamson’s career services, and was happy to recommend his friend. Jean was able to finish out the summer as a carpenter for J&M. The following summer, Jean’s friend was interning at ARCODesign and, once again, put in a good word for Jean. Jean also interned with the general contracting firm in Philadelphia, and received a full-time offer after graduation. According to Williamson faculty and staff, Jean is an exemplary worker, and well deserving of the support and opportunities that he’s received.
During Williamson’s Service Week, Jean’s group was stationed at the Mill at Anselma. He led the charge using tractors, muscle and sheer determination to remove a 500-pound cement wheel from the ground, re-purposing it for the historic site.
At Williamson, Jean helped replace decks on campus apartments. He worked diligently from late November through to February “without ever complaining about the cold,” says Shop Director Mike Neville who managed the project.
With his positive attitude and work ethic, “Jean embraced what Williamson is about,” Mr. Neville says.
“Jean needed to be in a place where people cared,” says Anne Asmann, a Williamson math teacher for 23 years. She saw his lack of confidence when he first got there. “At first he didn’t feel he was good at math, but at the end of four semesters, he was one of my top students.”
Ms. Asmann adds, “He’d do anything for anybody.” She was able to rely on Jean when her father passed away this year. Jean moved furniture from her father’s house to hers, a gesture Ms. Asmann won’t forget.
Frank Brown, a 17-year welding instructor, says that, “Jean is one of the guys you’ll always remember – the smile, the way he walks across the shop. He’s the kind of guy you hire.”
Jean’s success can be attributed in part to the close bonds he formed at Williamson. He was always spending time with Gregory Beach, his roommate and best friend. Gregory introduced Jean to his girlfriend.
“If it weren’t for my friends at Williamson,” Jean says, “I wouldn’t have had work that freshman summer, I wouldn’t be about to start a full-time job with ARCO, and I wouldn’t have my girlfriend!”
“I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.”
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