By Ed Weirauch
Aris Topalidis truly embraces each day, because he knows first-hand that tomorrow is not a given.
Now in remission for about 12 years, Aris suffered with leukemia as a child. He underwent extensive treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, often on a monthly basis.
“That experience gave me an appreciation for life,” Aris says today, adding that he feels that any situation he faces is or won’t be as challenging as facing cancer. There is a deep sense of calmness to this young man, likely rooted in his survival of those uncertain days.
Now a Power Plant Technology student at Williamson, Aris says his health scare tightened his already-close family ties and fuels his sense of people’s value. “My extended family was all there for me. I think that’s one of the reasons I like Williamson so much – we’re like a brotherhood. We are bound together forever.”
While that Williamson brotherhood can’t be described in a course catalog or on a website, Aris and many of his fellow students convey that they feel and value it.
“I’ve made such good friends here, they’ll be my friends forever. I’m with these guys in the gym at 5am, going to class together, serving lunch, sharing meals. I think these experiences form deep bonds.”
While a senior at nearby Marple Newtown High School, Aris says he was drawn to Williamson because it offered a direct career path and a sense of structure and security. He felt confident that he’d find these at Williamson because of his older brother’s experiences as a 2018 Williamson graduate.
“I needed that sense of security, to know where I was going,” Aris says. “And I’m so grateful that I landed somewhere that I love, where I can make the most out of every second, every day.”
Williamson’s no-tuition policy also made a big difference in his decision to attend Williamson… Generally quick but thoughtful with his answers, Aris is almost speechless when asked how he would otherwise have paid for his education. “That would have been tough…” he muses.
Aris is following his brother in studying Power Plant Technology. He will have his choice of careers in the field, ranging from inspections, service, wiring, setting up screening programs, power generation and dispatching, and operations.
His internship this summer will be in Santa Ana, California with California Boiler. Aris secured the position during Williamson’s Career Fair, one of each student’s most important events of the year.
And while he looks forward to this new opportunity, Aris and his fellow Power Plant students won’t exactly be new to this line of work. The students actually operate Williamson’s power plant, taking turns with shift work, start-up and shutdown of plant equipment, daily water treatment tests and mechanical and electrical maintenance.
Working in a power plant appeals to Aris because “we always have to be alert and aware. Our service is on the front line,” he asserts, which is just where he likes to be.
A classmate will head west with Aris for this lucrative internship that comes with housing and a company car. Might he head back to California after graduation? “If the opportunity presented itself and I felt it was the right place to nurture a family, sure.”
But his own roots will always be with his family, just a few miles from Williamson. These days his sister is finishing her pharmacy doctoral degree at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Aris plans to help her pay down her educational debt. “It’s the least I can do, because she’s always been there for me.”
There’s a calmness to Aris Topalidis, a cancer survivor in his formative years who now draws on both his education and his bonds with others to exhibit an air of unflappability. It’s just what you’d want at the helm of a power plant.
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