A few weeks into the fall semester, graduate student John Hunt Jr. was thrust into the national spotlight – with good cause. The Kleenex commercial he was featured in, titled “A Meaningful Move-In Day”, garnered nearly 5.3 million views within a few days and was shared over 29,000 times via social media in just two weeks.
The commercial highlights Fresno State’s Renaissance Scholars Program and the struggles foster youth experience while transitioning into college.
The kinesiology alumnus laughs humbly as he remembers the media attention that ensued afterwards, with appearances on national news show like Inside Edition, and popular news blog, The Huffington Post.
“It’s been overwhelming because I really don’t like the spotlight,” Hunt said. “But what I do like is that people have been reaching out to support our program. It is bringing awareness to the situation – to former foster youth or to students who are homeless as they transition into college and not having that support from their family.”
The Renaissance Scholars Program is very dear to his heart. He joined the program during his sophomore year at Fresno State. The program, which supports students who were formerly in foster care or were homeless, was established in 2008. Since then, more than 140 students through the program have received assistance related to academic, personal and financial needs.
Now in his first semester of graduate school, Hunt is giving back to the community that was so influential and nourishing to him. He is now a graduate assistant in Renaissance Scholars, where he helps to develop and facilitate programs to help the foster youth become successful college students and young professionals.
“I see myself in them,” Hunt said. “A lot of them don’t always feel understood. With me, they have someone they can relate to. Students need to feel like they belong and they need support because having that sense of belonging to a community is important – especially for our students. It could be very hard, feeling misunderstood, isolated and not having support as you go through college.”
“If you look at the stats of students in foster care as they transition into college and graduate, it is scary low. I am all about contributing back to the community. I had the opportunity to be part of the program and I jumped at it.”
Originally from Banning, a small town nestled in the Inland Empire of Southern California, Hunt found himself at Fresno State after visiting a friend who attended the University. He grew to love the community, which reminded him of home, with its rich diversity and unbridled school spirit.
“Fresno State is committed to their students and their success,” Hunt said. “We do a good job of serving the Valley and embracing all cultures. I want to go back to my community and do some of the same things for them. It’s very inspiring to me.”
With aspirations of becoming a strength training coach and opening up his own personal fitness gym, Hunt enrolled in Fresno State in 2011 and majored in Kinesiology with a general option in Personal Fitness Training.
Over the course of his undergraduate career, he spent a lot of time working with the Bulldogs football team, as well as the men’s tennis team. At one point, he even had the opportunity to intern with USC’s strength and conditioning program, which included working closely with the women’s basketball, track and field, water polo and volleyball teams.
In addition to his internships, he was actively involved on campus and still serves as a member of the African Black Coalition and Onyx, a club dedicated to improving the quality of life for male black students at Fresno State.
Hunt graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology in the fall of 2015. He was the first in his family to earn a college degree – an achievement highlighted at the African American Recognition Ceremony by keynote speaker, Ramsey Jay, Jr. (View video)
With just a few weeks of winter break, he was back on campus the following spring to begin his graduate school career, where he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Counseling through the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. Hunt is now serving on the executive board of the Rehabilitation Counseling Student Association.
“Going through my undergrad, I wanted to really find ways that I can have an impact on my community, where I come from and to help the youth,” Hunt said. “I saw a counseling as a degree that will allow me to go into k-12, or work on a college campus.”
Dr. Mitzi Lowe, associate dean in the College of Health and Human Services, has been mentoring Hunt for the past year and says he is nothing short of inspirational.
“I am so impressed with John’s drive to give back and make a difference,” Lowe said. “Through his challenges he has persevered and developed a passion for helping others. He is one of the most resilient students I have ever met in my career. I admire and have deep respect for him.”
In addition to his mentors on campus, Hunt also seeks inspiration from those closest to him – his family. With four brothers and four sisters and many younger extended family members, he is determined to be successful and serve as a positive role model in their lives. After all, he is the first in his family to earn a college degree.
“I am motivated to break the cycle that is going on in my family,” Hunt said. “Being able to go off to be successful and start that new beginning of success in my family, that includes college, is really important for me. It’s something that my family needs. They need to see that there is more to life than what they see at home and they have a ton of opportunities out there. Whether I go into education or business, I just want to be an inspiration to them.”
After achieving his graduate degree, Hunt has no intentions of slowing down. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and eventually become a faculty member or counselor at the K-12 or college level.
Whether it’s appearing in a nationally viewed commercial, helping former foster youth just like him, serving his community and campus, or making his family proud with his achievements, one thing is certain – Hunt is making his indelible mark and inspiring many others along the way.
Learn more about the Renaissance Scholars program by visiting their website.