Georgia Gwinnett College grad learns there is no direct path to the perfect career field

Eric Thomas Jr.

Eric Thomas Jr. 

Eric Thomas Jr., 25, of Norcross, describes their younger self as “one of those annoyingly smart kids who shines at every academic spotlight,” but their abundance of book smarts was counterbalanced by a strange lack of motivation. Born and raised in metro Atlanta, they graduated from Henry County High School with a 3.8 GPA, but was ambivalent about what to do next.

“I am not going to lie; I was entitled,” said Thomas, who identifies with the they/them pronoun. “But life always finds a way to humble you.”

Thomas’s humbling came in the ensuing years via a string of dead-end jobs and abandoned career paths. Their first job was on a construction site digging holes. They quit after seeing their supervisor get electrocuted three times.

Next, Thomas found work as a dishwasher, quickly working their way up to line cook, manager and sous chef. They leaned into their new affinity for cooking, enrolled in culinary school, and poured themself into earning a degree – only to wake up one day two years later and realize they were not enjoying it one bit. It was an assignment to make a blueberry pie that finally drove them to walk away. 

“I kept justifying my reason for quitting to anybody who asked me,” said Thomas. “At that moment, I felt ashamed of myself because I had never quit something that big before. I always stuck it out. Yet, I knew something was missing. Even though I loved cooking, I knew it was not my true profession.”

They spent another two years working for a catering company, indifferent about cooking and indecisive about their life direction. After a particularly harrowing day baking 1,000 cookies, they found themself doing some soul searching. Thomas was now 22 years old and still rudderless. They decided to try college again – but this time, a four-year college in hopes of finding their passion.

“I mean, if I can’t find my passion after four years, something must be wrong with me, right?”

A random online search of different college majors led them to the Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) website, and it was like the clouds parted and a ray of light landed on their computer screen, Thomas said.

“One look at the description of the human development and aging services (HDAS) major and I was sold,” they said. “I felt a presence of assurance, which is very rare in my life.”

Thomas said they were nervous to be on a college campus at first. 

“That ended in about a week.” They added.

They not only fit in immediately but thrived. Over the past four years, Thomas has served as student ambassador, diversity ambassador, student orientation leader, director for the Grizzly Digital Network and student assistant for the Office of Advancement. In addition, they were president of the Faces of Gender and Sexuality student organization, a student government senator and a member of Four Pillar Society. They also participated in academic research regarding gender identity.

Thomas said they chose the HDAS major because they want to help others, not only on an individual level but through a collective perspective by solving the root issues of inequity.

“As an aspiring school social worker, I want to implement inclusive practices centered around school and community partnerships. I want to advocate for improved community services that help families and youth thrive, in addition to providing clinical services to the biopsychosocial needs of students. Thus, combining my two obsessions of education and youth development into one profession.”

Pursuing their degree at GGC has filled Thomas with the motivation they were missing in their earlier life. Today, they have big dreams and clear goals. The soon-to-be graduate plans to take the next two years getting experience in social work, specifically in reducing opportunity gaps in high schools within underserved communities. After that, they plan to attend graduate school to become a school social worker.

Thomas will join more than 650 students, who will graduate at GGC's commencement at 10 a.m., Wednesday, May 11 at Gas South Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth.

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