Ellender Memorial High student nominated for prestigious state award

Hunter Nation has faced his share of challenges in life, so he’s hoping his future entails helping the lives of both family and strangers.

Nation, a senior at Ellender Memorial High School, already has his college plan squared away at a time when many students around the country are still figuring out their post-graduation plans. Nation, from Dulac, has committed to attending the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with designs on attaining two two-year bachelor’s degrees, one in electrical engineering and one in bioengineering. With that education, he wants to focus on nanotechnology and help produce prosthetics and robotics to help the physically and mentally impaired with their day-to-day lives.

“I had a lot of illness in my family when I was younger. I’ve lost a lot of people to things, Alzheimer’s, I’ve had people that have lost the ability to move. So I want to use my knowledge to help those that are less fortunate than I am,” Nation said.

To help get ready for a challenging workload in college, Nation is taking Advanced Placement classes this year, including an AP physics course he has had to do online without instruction due to a teacher’s sabbatical at Ellender. If he does well enough on the different AP tests at the end of the school year, he could earn college credits before stepping foot on ULL’s campus.

Nation has received recognition for his drive, planning and success at Ellender from the American College Testing company, the nationwide company that administers the ACT Test. Nation is one of 20 students in the state to be nominated for the College and Career Readiness State Exemplar Award. He is currently finishing his application, due by the end of this calendar year, for the award. If chosen as the state winner, announced around early February, Nation would receive a $500 scholarship and be in the running for the national award and a $1,000 scholarship.

Nation said he found out about the nomination on his own, much to his surprise. He was not aware he was even in the running for any award when he got the news. Kenya Fields, Nation’s counselor at Ellender, said she was just as surprised as him, but both were pleased by the news.

“He was kind of like, ‘Hey, why’d they pick me?’ I have no idea, dude. They must have saw some awesome qualities or some awesome promise in you,” Fields said.

Fields said part of the criteria for the award is based on Nation’s sustained progress on standardized tests in high school. Starting with the Explore Test in ninth grade, working up to the PLAN Test in 10th grade and then the ACT in 11th, Nation continued to make strides, according to Fields. Though Nation did not achieve a perfect score on his ACT, his rising performance from grade to grade earned the attention of the ACT company. Nation said while the English portion of the test presented some challenges, he was able to excel in the science and math sections.

Nation said he is about halfway done with the award application, something he must work on while also looking for additional ways to pay for his higher education. He is not sure about his scholarship reward from ULL yet, as he is still finishing his Free Application for Federal Student Aid. While he finishes that, he is also searching out and applying for numerous outside scholarships to help cover his college costs in an era of declining TOPS awards from the state.

In that application process, Nation has had to write about the challenges he’s faced in life. Such challenges further accentuate his desires to head to college. Nation said he’s seen family members working more than 50 or 60 hours a week to make ends meet. He said seeing the hard work his relatives have put in pushes him to want his own success, so he can earn enough to help take care of his family. Nation said when he’s written about that struggle for financial solvency, as well as the aforementioned health issues in his family, he is taken back to those hard moments.

“Reliving it actually brought me to tears. It can be an emotional process,” Nation said.

According to Nation, he is slated to be the first person in his family to attend a four-year university.

Such an achievement is not out of the normal at Ellender, where about 40 percent of students become first-generation college students, according to Fields. Fields credited the culture of the more rural, blue-collar southern part of Terrebonne Parish for those figures, saying many parents were expected to head to work after high school to help pay the bills rather than spend money at a university.

The culture is changing, however, according to Fields. She said more parents now are looking at the current downturn in the oil economy and wanting their children to seek other options, including jobs requiring four years at a university.

For his part, Nation said his family has been very supportive of his goals, noting he has a chance to do something different from most of his relatives and wanting to see him chase such aspirations. Fields said while it would have been easy for Nation to turn toward the labor force after graduation, his drive has pushed him toward a trailblazing path.

“He’s breaking that mold. He’s trying to do something out of that box that people put him in,” Fields said.

Fields said the school announced Nation’s nomination to the school, something Ellender does with many senior achievements, such as any college acceptances or armed service enrollments. The announcements are meant to both recognize students for their achievements and motivate their peers to chase post-high school goals, as well. She said she hopes Nation’s recognition from the ACT turns more national eyes toward the good going on at Ellender and also serve as some local inspiration.

“Just to have this huge honor for our school and our students, it’s kind of like they’re putting it on the map. If he can do this, then it’s possible next year that another student can be picked,” Fields said. •