For Jorrion Wilson, it wasn’t whether he was going to college, but where. That turned out to be Harvard University.
Wilson, 23, a graduate of Permian High School, walked the stage at Harvard Thursday, but it wasn’t always an easy journey.
When he was playing running back at PHS and some other sports, Wilson said colleges were beginning their recruiting process. He got offers from Harvard and Fordham University in New York.
“Those sounded great because they were pretty far away from home, so it came down to deciding between those two and (it was) kind of hard to turn down Harvard once I got in,” Wilson said in a phone interview.
Because he loves math, working with his hands and solving problems, Wilson said he chose mechanical engineering as his degree field.
While he found the people at Harvard amazing, it was a tough adjustment from Odessa. He took off a year in 2017 after his junior year to think about things and get married to his longtime sweetheart Destini Wilson. She moved up to Harvard for Wilson’s last year and a half of school.
“It’s a very different culture. It’s kind of hard to balance a different culture,” Wilson said.
“I think it was always a tough adjustment. I think the hardest time that I had at Harvard was my freshman year, just trying to become acclimated from the Odessa environment to a place where I knew no one at all. I think my freshman year was a very hard time for me,” he added.
He said he describes it as a dark time because he felt isolated and alone.
“But after freshman year, I kind of got acclimated to Cambridge and to Harvard and started to enjoy my time there more,” Wilson said.
Graduating was definitely going to be satisfying.
“That’s the end goal is to graduate. I think when I took the time off, I had to deal with some doubt because it’s a different atmosphere and a different way of thinking. People typically think when you take time off that you won’t end up going back to school, where at Harvard they encourage us a lot of times to take time off … to go and explore. Some people take time off and travel the world; some people take time off to intern. Outside of dealing with some of those negative thoughts surrounding me, it was very refreshing for me to take time off and I think when I came back I was rejuvenated and excited to be back on campus,” Wilson said.
While on break, in addition to tying the knot, Wilson worked for Orrex Plastics as an engineering intern.
Wilson said choosing Harvard was definitely worth it.
“The name Harvard speaks volumes for people that you encounter. Just outside of the name itself, the people that you meet here are just phenomenal. Everybody is amazing at whatever they’re doing whether it be academics, athletics, art, music, whatever it may be. You meet some of the most wonderful people that you’ll ever encounter in your lifetime. I think that what I’ll miss the most is being surrounded by such a high volume of people like that on a day-to-day basis, but I enjoy the friendships that I built here,” Wilson said.
This summer, he plans to move to Houston for an internship with Chevron. Wilson said he will be evaluated at the end of the summer and could be hired on.
At the same time, he plans to start a summer pilot program at the Woodson Boys and Girls Club in Odessa to help get youngsters interested in science, technology, engineering and math.
Wilson said he and Cheyenne Swoopes are in the venture and hope to start the program the second week of June.
“Right now, we’re looking to find volunteers who are able to go in and conduct the lessons. … Once we have our team officially established, we’ll move forward from there,” he said.
Having grown up on the south side of Odessa, Wilson said it’s good to have something positive available for youngsters. He said he knows there are also basketball and football camps to keep students occupied and out of trouble.
“Hopefully, our program will be another thing that can have more on the academic side to give them a more positive outlook on the capabilities and possibilities they could have in the future,” Wilson said.
He added that he’s passionate about working with young people and helping them reach their potential.
“… The Bible teaches that charity begins at home and so it made the best sense for me to try to do something with the people I know and the community that I was raised in,” Wilson said.
If all goes well, Wilson said the program could be expanded to the Wilkerson unit of the Boys and Girls Club in Odessa.
Blake Batte, CEO of Orrex Plastics, said he has known Wilson all his life.
Batte said graduating from Harvard is an extraordinary accomplishment, but if he were to guess who out of that graduating class at Permian would have gone on to do something remarkable, “Jorrion would have been my first choice.”
“I’m proud of him, excited for him, but not surprised,” Batte said.
Batte said he had the pleasure of watching Jorrion grow up and he did everything well.
“He has a great work ethic and an engineer’s curiosity, which made his time at Orrex very valuable. He’s blessed to have a mom that deliberately reared him to be excellent at everything he’s involved in,” Batte said.
Batte said Wilson was “every man’s man” and can even sing. A lot of students might get caught up in the celebrity of being a standout in academics and sports, but Batte said Wilson wasn’t that way.
“He’s a young man of high moral character and has been that way, literally, from elementary school,” Batte said.
Batte, who sits on the board of Fellowship of Christian Athletes of the Permian Basin, said the program was just starting the year Wilson graduated. Wilson has come back to talk to students a couple of times.
Wilson said he couldn’t have accomplished the things he has without the Lord.
“I want to say that without God none of this would have been possible. He’s gotten me this far, despite the ups and downs of college, the highs and lows, times that I thought I wouldn’t make it … God has been faithful through all of that,” he said.