In his junior year of high school, Hunter Killinen was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He spent a week in the hospital learning about his disease and how to manage it.
At Williamson, Hunter learned that, despite living with diabetes, he would not be defined or limited by it. Seeing an opportunity for self-discovery, Hunter achieved a standard of excellence in his craft, became a respected leader among his peers, impressed professionals in the industry, and stayed true to himself.
Hunter’s parents both attended a small Missouri college before they returned to their home state of Pennsylvania. His father is a caseworker in a hospital, and his mother works at the school Hunter and his younger sister attended up until the 4th grade.
As Hunter got older, his father faced some health issues. Two major back surgeries and a severe case of vertigo prevented him from serving his clients in the hospital as he had done for many years. His parents were relieved to see Hunter receive offers to play college baseball, but knew that with partial scholarships there would still be costs that their combined income would not cover.
Hunter considered other post-high school alternatives. He tried joining the Navy until he found out he would have to stop taking his life-sustaining diabetes medication for 30 days.
Then, Vice President of Enrollment Jay Merillat, made a presentation at his high school and Hunter was excited to learn about Williamson. He considered applying to Masonry or Horticulture, trades that would allow him “to work with his hands and get dirty in the field,” and was thrilled he would get the chance to play baseball. Hunter applied and was accepted as a member of the Class of 2021.
The first thing he did when he moved to campus in fall 2018 was touch base with Helene Montone, Williamson’s Director of Health Services. After three years, Nurse Montone says that, like the other diabetics on campus, Hunter is “very controlled,” and responsible for managing things. Williamson encourages personal responsibility in its students and has given Hunter permission to use his phone during school hours so that he can check his blood sugar level on an app.
The diligence and discipline that he has exercised for the sake of his health has carried over to his work, says Pete Zwolak, Director of Masonry and 2007 Graduate. “He’s always wanting to get it right. He wants to be good at what he does and do excellent work. He’s a real student of the trades.”
Hunter remembers a first-year project that was 95 percent completed when he dismantled and rebuilt it. “It wasn’t the way I wanted it to be. Every single project I do, I want to be the best it can be. If it’s not, I’ll tear it down.”
“You can’t be afraid to tear it down,” he says. “You’re here to learn; out in the real world, you can’t be tearing things down. You have to build it correctly the first time.”
On campus, Hunter was one of the most relied upon student masons on a recent dorm renovation project. The dorm is one of the original Frank Furness buildings on campus built in 1888, and requires specialized masonry restoration work.
As a senior, Hunter has been serving as a mentor to underclassmen. He’s one that leads with “quiet confidence.” says Mr. Zwolak. “The others listen and respect him because he knows what he’s doing and talking about.”
Baseball Coach Doug Thompson agrees with Hunter’s ability to lead by example. “He was a strong player from day one,” but it was his willingness to be there for the other players that made him ideally suited to being a captain, which he would’ve been if the season had not been cancelled due to Covid-19. With a “command presence,” Coach Thompson says, Hunter motivates and challenges his teammates. “He offers constructive criticism and is tactful about it.”
“When I was younger, I was in love with baseball,” Hunter says, “but then for a couple of years, when I was playing in high school, traveling, and competing, I lost that pure passion for it. When I came to Williamson – there was a new coach, new atmosphere – I loved playing the game again!”
Hunter continued to gain confidence and raise his self-esteem through his work and the success that’s evident as he connected with three professional companies that all wanted him to return, and two that have offered him full-time positions. He’s currently talking to three other masonry and management companies that attended Williamson’s spring Career Fair.
Hunter may become an employer himself. Last year, he started HK General Construction, and this past summer he saw business pick up. He doesn’t expect it to be a full-time job until later, but for now, he is laying down the foundation to be a successful business owner. He says that taking a business class at Williamson made him eager to learn more. After he works in the field for a year or two, he plans to pursue a degree in business and is thankful that the local college he’s interested in will take a majority of Williamson’s credits.
Hunter’s parents have seen the positive change since he has been at Williamson. “They told me that I’ve changed as a person and that I’ve become a better man,” Hunter says.
Most importantly, after three years of Williamson, he knows who he is and what he wants. “I feel like I can pick and choose – say yes or no to things. Do something else and not just what other people are doing.”
“Hunter’s always himself,” Shop Director Zwolak says. “He’s not afraid to be himself.”
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