ENTERPRISE, Miss. (AP) - Hunter Mollett hasn’t had an easy life.
Not too long ago, the young man was living in a trailer without power or water with just a griddle to cook on, and no food. He’d spend his nights on a park bench in hot, humid weather with mosquitoes biting him as he tried to sleep.
“The longest I remember going without food was four days,” Mollett recalls. “My parents got a bag of frozen peas that someone had put up way long ago. We cooked those and mixed up some cornmeal with water and fried it. That was the best meal I had eaten in my life. I never want to be without food again.”
Things are better these days, since the senior at Enterprise High School got word he was accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the world - Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Mollett plans to study biomedical engineering and pursue his dream of being a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“Going to Harvard has always been a dream of mine ever since I was in fourth grade,” Mollett remembers. “I can remember watching the show Boston Legal and asking my mom how they became a lawyer, to which she replied, “They went to Harvard.”
Having been abandoned by his parents by his junior year, Mollett has lived like a nomad, moving between caring faculty members, extended family and friends, according to Jacqueline Lewis, his Algebra I teacher and National Honor Society sponsor.
She remembers the young man as a disheveled and poverty-stricken 14-year-old when he entered the ninth grade.
On his first day in Lewis’s class, the freshman told her he was going to Harvard.
“I remember smiling and telling him that I was proud of him for having lofty goals,” Lewis recalls. “But, I also remember thinking to myself - ‘how cute it was that this poor child from rural Mississippi thinks that he will go to such an impressive and expensive university.’ Fast forward four years - Hunter has been accepted to Harvard University with almost a full scholarship.”
Mollett hasn’t been alone on his long journey to the Ivy League.
Along with Lewis, English teacher Sharon Prater is one of the people who was instrumental in making sure he made it to school.
“Hunter is an exception to the rule - I don’t know what else the Lord could have put in his way that Hunter wouldn’t have got around,” Prater said. “Yes, he has had help, but Hunter is the marker to his own success. He is what motivates us to be better.”
Enterprise High School Guidance Counselor Kathy Dedwylder said when she first learned of Mollett’s living situation, he was living with different families - once in a student’s backyard in a camper. One summer, he went to Meridian with his parents where they lived on the street, slept on park benches and lived in a homeless shelter.
He came back to school at the end of his sophomore year, then lived with some people he didn’t know and had no way to get to school.
Dedwylder said those obstacles didn’t stop Mollett’s drive to overcome his situation.
“Hunter has never used his situation as a crutch - he tackles every problem with a certain amount of laughter because if he quit laughing, he would cry, and he will not give in to that despair,” Dedwylder said. “He doesn’t talk about what he has been through but when you get down serious it is not so funny, but he doesn’t dwell on it long.”
One summer, when Mollett didn’t have a place to live, EHS band director Mark Edwards opened his home to him.
“My goal was to get him through the summer,” Edwards says. “He needed stability and for those eight months, my wife and I gave it to him. He knew where he was going to eat and sleep - and was the first time he ever had a room to himself. He had a bed that was his, he got to paint his room, and he could shut the door and listen to his music. He had rules and I treated him just like my father treated me - he was a member of our family and sometimes called me dad, still does.”
Before Mollett leaves for Harvard, he’ll take a trip to Chicago with the Mississippi Lions Allstate Band as one of 24 trumpeters selected.
“He beat over a hundred of the best trumpet players in Mississippi,” Edwards said. “He is the first band member from Enterprise in over 10 years to be in the Lions band. Music is a passion of his, a release, and a getaway. You know if he has those headphones in, either something’s wrong, or something good has happened. I can pick up on that.”
EYES ON THE PRIZE
In spite of tremendous trials, Mollett scored 34 on the ACT, which earned him the title of Star Student. He also achieved the second highest GPA at the school and, when he wasn’t studying, founded an annual “LOVE” project, which aims to recognize school employees.
“This year he came to me and said ‘let’s do something for the cafeteria workers or the maintenance guys, or the people who work in the bus barn’,” Lewis said. “Let’s do something for the ones that don’t get recognized. The club loved the idea and we had a wonderful LOVE project.”
One of the keys to Mollett’s success may be his attitude - he says he tries to be a happy-go-lucky person and not think about the negatives in his life.
“The hardest thing has been all my friends are like the richest people at the school,” Mollett said. “They talk about going to the movies and bowling with their friends all the time. Then the fact I live 40 miles away from all of them, I feel disconnected.It kind of bothers me, but they don’t treat me any differently. They include me when they can.”
Lewis says Mollett has the rare combination of intellect and emotional awareness.
“Hunter is absolutely brilliant and has this incredible balance of empathy and ambition,” she said. “He is smart and ambitious and wants to do his best but does not compete with the other kids. He doesn’t look for recognition or to be the center of attention. He’s happy for the ones who do well - that’s his nature. I think it is amazing that the one with the least basic provisions is the one with the most generous heart.”
VISITING THE SCHOOL
Mollett visited Harvard in March for freshman orientation. Without the means to make the trip, the faculty at EHS took up a collection to pay his way.
Mollett describes his first experience on the school’s campus as culture shock.
“The first time I was disappointed because when I got there it was raining, gray and very depressing,” Mollett recalled. “So, I started walking to try and find my way to the motel and noticed this nice square with all of these nice buildings around it…that’s when I looked up and saw a flag that said ‘Harvard.’ Everything up here is so beautiful like all the old style buildings. It was just awesome.
Down the road, Mollett said he wants to have a large family.
“I don’t want to spoil my kids, but I will make sure they have what they need,” he said.
For now, Mollett plans to leave for Harvard sometime in August. He’s looking forward to being in a place he can call home with pinewood floors and fireplaces.
And while the young man has had a lot of support in his short life, Dedwylder credits divine intervention for sending him from East Mississippi to the Ivy League.
“So many pieces came together and it was all orchestrated by God or it couldn’t have happened,” she said. “There was a divine hand that moved things around for this child to be ok.”
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