SCHS’s Mason Hodge has already walked college grad line

May. 18, 2014 @ 03:15 PM

 Mason Hodge hasn’t gotten his degree from Sevier County High School yet, but he’s already walked the aisle at Johnson University under some difficult circumstances.

Hodge’s older sister, Tiffany, was set to get her degree there when she learned she had acute myeloid leukemia. She’s undergoing treatment in Nashville, and was unable to make it to the ceremonies at her college.

So Mason filled in. Carrying an iPad so he could let her watch the events with him and speak to the dean, he took her place so she could take part even though she couldn’t be there in person.

“I received her diploma and then went back to the hospital and gave it to her myself , so technically I graduated college before I graduated high school, which was pretty cool but it was a really heart-wrenching thing,” he said.

Her prognosis is good, and the cancer appears treatable, but of course their parents have been in Nashville with her for some time. . That’s left Mason at home on his own a lot. “Sometimes you grow up pretty quickly when things happen,” he said. I’m definitely finding out what it means to live on my own.”

He’s used to being self-reliant, though. He’s saving money to help pay for college by mowing yards during the week and working at Forbidden Caverns on Saturdays.

It’s not that his parents won’t help; he just wants to earn as much as he can on his own.

“I’ve always been very self dependent, ”he said. “I don’t want to ask my parents for everything.

“It’s just one of those things that when you’ve earned it yourself, you have more of a sense of pride about it.”.

So maybe it’s not surprising that he has a plan for college and beyond. He’s actually had it for a while.

He wants to go into petroleum engineering, so he can start a company that taps the oil and natural gas resources in the Southeast.

It started on visits to his grandmother’s place in Livingston, Tenn., where there were oil rigs around including some right across the road.

“I’d wake up early and smell the oil coming across in the morning,” he said. “There’s this certain smell that comes from raw oil and I know it sounds crazy but I love the smell of it.” It helps that his dad works with natural gas at Sevier County Utility District as well, he said.

But he has a vision of creating a company that creates jobs here and helps the nation end its dependence on foreign energy.

“There’s definitely oil and natural gas in this area,” he said. ““There’s just these smaller deposits and they’re shallow and that’s a main focus is getting that out, because then we don’t have depend on other countries.”

That’s helped him focus on academics when he studies chemistry and math, although English classes are still a chore for him.

Not enough to drag down his grades. He’ll still graduate as a valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA.

It might seem like that work wouldn’t leave much time for fun, but he said he still manages to enjoy himself.

“I hunt all the time in the winter, I fish, I go out all the time to the lake. “I’ve got a girlfriend who takes up a lot of my time, too.”