Nate: Welcome back to Meridian school, Hootie! After so many years away. I’ve got some great questions ready for you today and I’m excited to hear your answers. I want to start by asking you what you have been up to since you graduated.
Hootie: Well, I left the day after graduation to sell pest control in Oklahoma to save up money and prepare for my mission.
Nate: How long were you there?
Hootie: I did it for two months and then I got my LDS mission call. Then I worked at Foot Locker and Reams to continue to save for my mission, which I began in October 2014.
Nate: And you served your mission in the Philippines?
Nate: That’s amazing! What was it like to live in the Philippines?
Hootie: Good! It was hard, I mean, obviously there are struggles that come with being a missionary, especially a newer one. It was hard for the first while until I could really get the language. It was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but once I got the language and once I “submitted”, I totally loved it.
Nate: How is it settling into a third world culture? Or was it even third world where you were?
Hootie: Yeah, it was definitely third world. It was hard! I relate my mission experience to being in the middle of a rice field having to pump your own water and wiping your butt with your hand. That’s my mission experience! Like I said, the struggles are different for each missionary and each mission has different tribulations.
Nate: What area of the Philippines did you serve in?
Hootie: The main island. 6 hours north of Manila.
Nate: Did you do much humanitarian work while you were there, or was it mainly proselyting?
Hootie: It was mainly proselyting. I mean, we did as much humanitarian work as we could, but it was mainly proselyting.
Nate: And you returned how long ago?
Hootie: Three months ago.
Nate: And how has that been?
Hootie: It’s fine…. I think the hardest thing for me is finding my identity again. I mean, growing up I went to Meridian, my dad was the headmaster, my siblings went there, and it was easy to find your identity. I mean, you don’t really question your own identity when you’re in elementary school. Then you get to junior high and you’re going through puberty and so you find yourself again. So I feel like in High School I found who I was, you know? I mean, I’m Hootie, you know what I’m saying? It’s like this is who I am, this is what I do, these are things that are related to me. And then I feel like when you go out on your mission it’s stripped down. Like you’re new again. I don’t know if you felt the same way, but you had to find yourself again as “Elder”. So then after a little while I found myself as “Elder Hennessey”. This is what I do, this is the Elder that I am. Then, coming home, it’s like I’m in puberty again, haha!
Nate: You’re right. You totally have to redefine who you are.
Hootie: I still feel like I haven’t adjusted quite yet because I’m still finding myself again as a returned missionary.
Nate: It’s amazing how much the mission experience deviates from what has been, and then you come back and it’s all over everything is new again.
Nate: So what are your plans now that you’re back?
Hootie: I’m going to school. I’m actually looking for work now. I’m not entirely sure, though, because I’m not quite sure what I want to study or what I want to be. So right now I’ll just be going to school and looking for opportunities to help me find out what that could be.
Nate: That sounds very familiar to everyone I’ve talked to who has returned from a mission.
Hootie: Yeah it’s stressful!
Nate: Thinking back on your years at Meridian, what was the most valuable lesson you learned?
Hootie: This is hard to describe… I feel like there were different types of Meridian. I feel like there was the Meridian that my sister went to and graduated from in Provo and my brother graduated from in Provo and my Dad ran, and the Meridian after it shut down when I was in 8th grade. That happened in 2009. Since then it’s been different. Not a bad different, but my Pre-K to 8th grade years are the most cherished years of my life. Meridian created such a different experience for kids who were 4-18. When you went to that school it was cool to learn and cool to be smart. I remember when it shut down and I was going to Timpview my 9th grade year. I had a Junior to Senior class schedule because Meridian had kept me 2-3 years ahead of the state curriculum. So I see that in my brother who is working on his Master's degree at the University of Utah. He will be a Statistician, and he is on the verge of a very very successful career. I also see it in my sister as an actress in Los Angeles who has been there for 4 years now. She is finally making waves with Paramount Studios. So I haven’t yet seen it in me, haha.
Nate: You will! You will! We are confident.
Hootie: I feel like I was a part of the last group of kids who experienced it as a young child at Meridian. It made you want to progress and want to be better and want to learn more. It still hasn’t really gone away. I feel like it is still there and it’s up to me whether or not I’ll keep it, but it’s this natural desire I can’t deny. I strayed away from it when I was in High School. I mean, I screwed around a lot when I was here, but you know, it’s always there. I saw it in my mission. I think I read more books than anybody that I knew. I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it. Just this internal desire to be the best.
Nate: It sort of set a culture.
Hootie: Yeah, that was the culture of the school. And so I remember in classes with Miss Winston or Miss Mott or Mrs. Wall - Tasi will know those names - or like Miss Yuminsky, how you would come to school and the whole day you just wanted to learn. And it wasn’t cool to NOT learn. So I’ve seen that in the public school system and in charter schools too how it is very common for the culture to be that it is not cool to learn and it’s not cool to want to have more knowledge, it’s not cool to read, it’s not cool to do homework. And I adopted that in High School, but growing up that was the mindset and that was the culture of Meridian. And I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve talked to my parents about it, and I haven’t really seen that since.
Nate: Having that type of background with Meridian, what advice would you give a high school student now? What can they do to have that culture in their own schooling?
Hootie: I think I would want to remind them that High School is just a preparation for bigger things in life and that they shouldn’t cut corners. Let’s say they aren’t necessarily thrilled about math or reading. They’re not good at it and they don’t want to work hard at it, but they want to get an “A”. They should just take the time to create good habits with studying and doing homework because there is a scripture, I can’t remember where it is, I think it’s in Alma, where it's talking about the resurrection where the same body we have now will inherit that in the next life. I’m paraphrasing it, I hope it’s not incorrect, but that’s basically how it will be when they go to college. So the same studying habits, the same way they look at school, the same way they look at homework and going to class when they are a senior will be the same way they’re going to look at it when they’re in college. And so I think it’s important they remember that so they don’t just screw around.
Nate: So do you have an hilarious memories from Meridian? Maybe that you got away with?
Hootie: Yeah, it’s all in elementary school. Tasi might remember this. Michael Duckworth wadded up the entire boys bathroom with wet paper towels and then peed in the sinks when we were in the 1st grade…. I don’t know. Tasi knows I was always the class clown, but Michael Duckworth and Caleb Allen and Sean Rostrum were always having fun and messing around.
Nate: That’s hilarious! Who was an instructor or mentor at Meridian who taught you valuable lessons? Someone that you looked up to in either the teaching staff or faculty?
Hootie: I like Tasi!
Nate: Are you saying that because he’s going to hear it? Haha!
Hootie: No I really do, haha! Let me think…. Rachel Barlow was awesome. I remember growing up in elementary school and always being able to talk to her while my dad was busy doing something… Travis Madsen was always an idol for me and my family because he was so hardworking and always mowing the field and taking care of classes and coaching teams. He was the caretaker of the school. Let me think… All my teachers. Mrs. Penrod, Miss Winston, Miss Mott, Mrs. Wall, Miss Umenski, Mrs. Nagel, I really liked Mrs. Nagel. And Claire Watabi! She was one of my favorite math teachers. Also, Mindy Young! She is quite popular in the Theater Community. And Jason Watabi. All those people I remember.
Nate: Obviously you’ve on been back from the Philippines for 3 months, but are there people that you still keep in touch with from Meridian?
Hootie: Yeah, actually. These are elementary school friends. The other day Caleb Allen, Christian Minton, and I all hooked up. We were all in Kindergarten together. Michael Duckworth and Sean Rostrum are part of my core group of friends. You know that Michael has been my best friend since Kindergarten. He was the one that helped me vandalize the bathroom. There is definitely a small group of people from Meridian that I grew up with that will always be a part of my life.
Nate: Well that is awesome. Thank you so much for being a part of the interview today. It was perfect and Meridian School wishes you the best in all your future pursuits!