Painting and sandblasting crude oil tanks at 35 feet in the air is not what James Moorhead ever imagined he would be doing. But McDermott International recruited this Paint and Coatings student for the job, trusting him with such highly specialized work.
The summer internship Jimmy got through Williamson Career Services presented him with challenges: traveling across the country, living on his own, and working alongside older, experienced tradesmen. But the biggest challenge lay ahead. When he returned to Williamson in the fall his senior year, Jimmy was hit with loss and despair over the sudden death of a best friend and the news that his sister was seriously ill.
“As challenging as it was to be at Williamson at that time, it was the place I had to be,” Jimmy says. “I felt comfortable there. It was like home.”
His own family home in Delaware County broke apart at an early age. Jimmy’s father was hardly around. His parents got divorced when he was nine and his mother raised him on her own. His sister, 13 years his senior, lived independently but remained there for him, close by.
Growing up, he earned good grades and played sports all year round, until high school when two football injuries sidelined him for a substantial period of time. From then on, he started “going down the wrong road,” he says.
By senior year, his high school counselor knew he was in trouble. She helped steer him in a better direction. Jimmy didn’t feel like a regular four-year college was right for him, he says. “I would’ve partied too much.”
He considered the military. He wanted more supervision, which he says he needed. “I wanted a change in my every day life.” His guidance counselor encouraged him to apply to Williamson. He got accepted and, along with his family, was thrilled knowing the opportunities Williamson offered.
His freshman year he found it hard to adjust, but campus life brought him out of his shell. He soon made an impression on John Curran, 2005 graduate and former Williamson Paint shop instructor.
“It’s rare to see a guy that really has a lot of ability shining through so early on,” Mr. Curran says.
From the beginning, Mr. Curran knew what Jimmy stood for and that he was a mature leader. “I told Jimmy that the school needed him more than he needed the school.”
Jimmy says he got “really comfortable his junior year.” He excelled academically, worked with the Horticulture students by contributing to the Philadelphia Flower Show’s award-winning exhibit, and was captain of the Lacrosse Team.
Jimmy’s confidence was on the rise. “You don’t understand the potential you have until you start achieving things,” he says.
Jimmy was invited back to Texas for a second summer with McDermott. Weeks after he arrived, Jimmy got word that his best friend from childhood had died in an industrial accident. Jimmy flew home to be with his friend’s family. He stayed in his friend’s house that week. Afterwards, he went back to complete his internship before starting his senior year. When he returned to campus in late summer, his sister told him she had breast cancer.
Jimmy came back to Williamson that fall deeply sad and distracted. His friend had just graduated from the Police Academy and was about to start his career. His sister, now in chemo and radiation treatments, had received a prestigious job offer at the University of Pennsylvania right before she got sick.
“I started to evaluate the people in my life. I saw their will to fight. It gave me a push to not give up, and to keep striving for the end goal.”
With help from Reverend Mark Specht, the administration, and his shop mates, Jimmy says, he worked through the painful feelings associated with his friend’s death and his sister’s illness.
He ended his senior year on a high note. For the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit, Jimmy was responsible for the faux finish that gave the exhibit its Mediterranean look. He helped secure a silver medal win for the Hort team. He received the Michael S. Zimmerman 9W1 Award for Academic Excellence by a Paint Shop student at Commencement. He landed a full-time job with the Buccini/Pollin Group, a construction management company in Delaware.
Jimmy bonded closely with his fellow Paint students. “We got tight. We didn’t leave each other’s side.” If they hadn’t been there for him, Jimmy says, he wouldn’t have developed the strong mental attitude that got him through that difficult time during his senior year.
“My friends from Paint have given me the strength and courage to be my best self around everybody and to be my brothers’ keeper for everyone I love, because we’re all there for each other.”
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