Giuseppe Pollino experiences an adrenaline rush at 40 to 50 feet in the air when he prunes or removes trees. But it’s his family tree, with roots planted in Italy, that inspired this horticulture senior to reach new heights at Williamson.
At 20, he is the same age his grandfather was when he emigrated from Sicily to America. He arrived with no money and no more than a first-grade education, yet he worked hard as a tailor to build a life in America and provide for his four sons, who built families of their own.
“Looking back at his life, I see what he went through to get here and what he did in his everyday life back in Italy,” says Giuseppe, who felt his grandfather’s influence at an early age. When he was 10 years old, Giuseppe’s grandparents took him to Monforte San Giorgio, the ancient Sicilian town where his grandfather was born and raised. The summer trip made a huge impression on him, he says.
Giuseppe stayed in the same house that his grandfather grew up in, which is still owned by a family member. His grandfather showed him the path he took to the farm and fields everyday as a child. While his parents worked in town in a family-owned cheese factory, Giuseppe, Sr. and his siblings tended to the crops and the animals. “The farm was quite a way from the house; my grandfather had to climb two or three crazy hills to get there!”
In America, Giuseppe’s parents had their own hills to climb. He grew up near Atlantic City and his parents, a general manager of an auto dealership and an office worker, faced financial hardship with two economic recessions. They had to move further away from Atlantic City where life was more affordable and less devastated by the downturns.
Fortunately, Giuseppe did not have to change high schools, but he had a 30-minute drive to school, no longer a 10-minute walk. He missed being just five minutes away from his grandparents with who he practically lived before they moved away.
Young Giuseppe always felt at home pushing a lawnmower. He had a knack for landscaping. When he started the horticulture program at Williamson, he continued to develop his interest and skills in landscaping and hardscaping. But when Giuseppe discovered tree work “everything changed,” he says. He got a deep feeling of satisfaction from taking care of trees.
So many things about Giuseppe lend themselves to being a tree climber and an arborist. He was a cheerleader in high school and competed in the World Championships in Florida. He also continued playing football at Williamson.
“He’s very athletic,” says Horticulture Director David Day. He has entrusted Giuseppe to co-lead the tree crew that took down about 20 trees on campus this year.
Athletic Director Dale Plummer has watched Giuseppe grow into a leader. He made the USCAA Academic All-American Team, and, Mr. Plummer says, he would have been captain if the season hadn’t been cancelled because of Covid-19. “No one outworks him on the football field. His teammates view Giuseppe as fearless and totally dependable.”
From his natural aptitude for tree work, and the training and education he was getting at Williamson, Giuseppe branched out into successful internships he got through the college’s Career Services. He started as a groundsman for Strobert Tree Services last summer in Wilmington. When his supervisors saw his experience, they allowed him to climb trees, fly the bucket, rig down limbs, set up the rigging, and make cuts in trees. He says that Strobert couldn’t believe how, at such a young age, he knew so much about the field.
Giuseppe is grateful for the entirety of what he’s getting at Williamson. He has excelled academically, making dean’s list every semester.
Disciplined and diligent, Giuseppe has the rare distinction at Williamson of receiving no disciplinary points throughout his three years. Furthermore, he is one of 12 seniors being inducted into the I.V. Club, Williamson’s highest honor, recognized for the leadership and character they’ve exhibited during their time here.
“He adjusts and positions himself,” says Mr. Day, leading if it’s called for, following others if he has to, according to what’s required of the task.
Currently, Giuseppe is working with other Horticulture Seniors on the Class of 2021’s Capstone Project – the transformation of a retention basin. They are re-working and channeling the drainage and creating a comfortable seating area where people can gather.
Taking stock of his experience these past three years, Giuseppe is grateful and proud that he will be graduating with honors from Williamson. He is getting accolades from employers, and a strong foundation of knowledge and experience in his trade.
He reflects on the feeling of satisfaction he gets each time he comes down from a tree. “That feeling of hard work, of helping a living organism, and of helping people feel safe around the trees,” makes him think about his grandfather and how hard he worked to help his family back in Italy. He thinks of the sacrifices both his grandparents made and all they did so their children would be financially secure. He sees what he can accomplish, and how much easier it is for him than it was for his grandfather.
His grandfather is a man of few words, but has always promoted the importance of education. Giuseppe has taken his grandfather’s words to heart and now is especially grateful as he nears graduation and the completion of a trades degree at Williamson. “Knowing in the back of my head what he went through to get here, it drives me to do better,” Giuseppe says.
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