Tucker Wilson sat in The Great Day Bakery with no way to get home.
He was a high school senior, and he had flown for the first time by himself to tour High Point University. But he needed an Uber to get to the airport and fly back to his hometown of Pembroke, Massachusetts. He couldn’t.
His credit card had been denied, and he began to panic. He was alone in a state where he knew no one, and he had no money and no one to turn to.
Or so he thought.
Up came an HPU co-ed.
“Are you OK?” she asked. “You look a little stressed out.”
He explained, and she helped. She paid for Wilson’s Uber ride to the airport and helped him get home. Wilson tried to pay her back. He offered her his Magic Meal, a card that allowed her to eat for free on campus. She said no.
Wilson never got her name. But that one exchange sealed the deal for him. He knew HPU was the place for him.
Wilson is one of two Extraordinary Leaders for the month of December. He’ll graduate in May with a degree in political science and move on to either the Peace Corps or graduate school. No matter his decision, he knows what he leaves behind.
He helped create a campus of compassion. Like the student he met in The Bakery, Wilson became that empathetic person on campus. He raised money, scheduled events and worked in other countries to help the hurt, the marginalized and the forgotten.
He has his reasons, and they are deeply personal.
The Power of Altruism
When Hurricane Florence hit the North Carolina coast in September 2018, Wilson got a knock on his residence hall door. It was a good friend, an HPU alumna. She was teaching at a school in Wilmington, North Carolina, and she needed a place to stay because residents there were encouraged to evacuate to escape the hurricane’s wrath.
At that moment, the weather tragedy became real for Wilson. He knew he had to do something.
So, as the service chair of the Executive Council for HPU’s Student Government Association, he set up a table during the university’s Family Weekend and started taking up donations to help those in the path of the storm.
The fundraiser he organized brought in $30,000 in five days.
That’s one example of Wilson’s work with the SGA. His position gave him the opportunity and the resources to help people, and he organized food drives and events that honored first responders and helped local children receive gifts for Christmas and candy at Halloween.
As a member of the co-ed service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, he also traveled far beyond North Carolina to help people in need.
In Haiti, he helped build a home. In Ghana, he worked at a local hospital.
He logged in patients, assisted doctors and helped families navigate the emotional, confusing terrain of healthcare. He worked from 5 a.m. to midnight, and as patients and their families shared their stories in broken English, Wilson listened.
Wilson describes those service trips as a “true blessing.” Those experiences only undergird his efforts with HPU’s Title IX organization. He’s been with Title IX since his sophomore year.
He is now HPU’s Title IX president, and he has organized campus events intent on raising awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence. He also has attended two international conferences to get more information about what else to do.
His work with Title IX, Wilson says, is his calling on campus. He knows why. He’s a survivor of sexual assault.
The Why Behind Wilson’s Work
It was his sophomore year at HPU when he first told his story.
He was a part of panel speaking in the big classroom in Phillips Hall. HPU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs had put together a round table discussion to help students understand the importance of inclusion and respect.
When Wilson began to speak, his voice shook. He didn’t know anyone in the audience. He looked over their heads to keep his emotions in check as he told his story of being sexual assaulted as a seventh-grader.
Afterward, people came up and thanked him.
“As a sexual assault survivor, you lose a sense of control and ownership, and to hear people say, ‘I believe you’ and ‘I support you,’ is a validating thing,” he says. “We human beings need validation.”
The sexual assault happened on a farm near his house, where Wilson worked as a weekend helper during the summers, making extra cash so he could buy candy and go the movies.
Wilson remained silent about it until his junior year in high school. He told his best friend, his mom found out that same day, and she told him, “I love you with my whole heart, but I’m not an expert on this.”
Wilson spent a year in therapy. When he came to HPU, he got involved with its Title IX organization. After that first speech in Phillips Hall, he has told his story on campus at least five more times.
“I want to do my part,” he says, “to make our community safer.”
An Emotional Moment
Wilson’s work at HPU has focused on inclusivity, too.
He’s a member of VOICE, a group that advocates for all minorities on campus. And Wilson is one. He’s gay.
He came to that conclusion his senior year in high school, but he kept it to himself because of the questions he couldn’t answer.
“Am I going to lose friends? Am I going to lose my family?” he asked himself. “How am I going to live my life?”
Finally, during his freshman year at HPU, he told his parents. He gave them the news through FaceTime.
“I know that was a very Gen Z thing to do,” Wilson says.
And their reaction?
“They were like ‘Yeah, we love you and support you, and that doesn’t change how we think of you,’’ he says. “When I heard that, I thought, ‘I should have come out sooner.’ They supported me, my friends supported me, and they all accepted me. I don’t take that for granted.”
Wilson’s Lessons From HPU
For two years, Wilson worked as a resident assistant, better known on campus as an RA. Today, he’s one of 10 assistant resident directors on campus.. He supervises nine RAs, and he has established a reputation as a respected leader.
Jennifer Cotto-Ecklund, an area coordinator with HPU’s Office of Student Life, has seen that up-close.
Wilson reports to Cotto-Ecklund, and she’s seen him handle all sorts of situations without getting frazzled. Meanwhile, she has watched him grow as a leader. He brings to his position an empathy that allows people to feel comfortable enough to share concerns, joys and sorrow.
“Showing vulnerability shows people you’re human,” Cotto-Ecklund says.
HPU, Wilson says, helped him hone that leadership skill.
“You need to be aware of everyone else in your life,” he says. “A leader is not the loudest person in the room or the person who has the biggest title. HPU has taught me that we’re all here as a team to get things done.”