A single dad from Kennewick isn’t sure what awaits after graduation on May 7, but he knows he’s better prepared to chase his dreams.
Justin Hawkes would like to resurrect his old T-shirt business to put his creativity on display. This time he says he’ll be better equipped with his experience in marketing and graphic design.
“The idea of walking down the street and seeing someone wearing my shirt,” he said. “That’s my art.”
Hawkes, 28, was left a little aimless a few years ago after his small screen-printing outfit that he ran with a friend shut down.
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The idea of walking down the street and seeing someone wearing my shirt. That’s my art.
Justin Hawkes, WSU Tri-Cities graduate
May 7, he’s graduating from Washington State University Tri-Cities with a degree in digital technology and culture. It hasn’t been easy for Hawkes as he’s worked his way through school and helped raise his 4-year-old son, but the connections he’s made and the artistic skills he’s refined made his efforts worthwhile.
“He has ideas and he’s dedicated to good execution of those ideas,” said Sena Clara Creston, assistant clinical professor of fine arts.
Art has long been a part of Hawkes’ life, as he recalled drawing pictures to go with the stories he heard from others. After graduating from Southridge High School in 2006, he took art classes while earning an associate degree from Columbia Basin College, a process that took him about six years. He took only a few classes a term, paying for them out of pocket, while also working.
“I think the thing is to just keep going,” he said.
It was during his time at CBC that he and some friends began following up on an idea to start designing screen-printed T-shirts, having them made through a local shop. Students pitched proposed designs by leaving them on his car’s windshield while he was in class.
Eventually, Hawkes and a friend acquired their own screenprinting machine and set up shop above what was once the Magill’s restaurant in Richland’s Uptown Shopping Center. Hawkes also started dabbling in design programs like Photoshop and with photography but he still didn’t know what he really wanted to do.
Then Hawkes and his friend lost their space when Magill’s closed and another restaurant moved in. The transition left him without a plan, until his friend Neal Schertz suggested he pursue a bachelor’s degree at WSU Tri-Cities.
“I couldn’t just sit back and hope to get a good job on no education,” Hawkes said.
I just told him times are hard but you just have to look at the light at the end of the tunnel. The reward is amazing once you’re through.
Neal Schertz, friend
He started at the Richland campus in fall 2014, applied for student aid and obtained student loans to help pay his tuition. But he still had to start off slow, partially because of his job at a local hotel but also because of his responsibilities as a father — his son was about 2 years old at the time.
“I had to take time away from the little time I had with him,” Hawkes said.
Schertz earned his mechanical engineering degree at WSU Tri-Cities and just as he encouraged Hawkes to pursue one of his own, he also provided emotional support. He’s also a single dad and Hawkes would sometimes come to him to vent or seek advice about how to balance school, family and art.
“I just told him times are hard but you just have to look at the light at the end of the tunnel,” Schertz said. “The reward is amazing once you’re through.”
It was after securing a marketing internship in the university’s administrative offices a year ago that Hawkes was able to free up time to spend with his son.
It also meant more time on campus, giving him more opportunities to collaborate with other students and faculty, and more experience on how to market himself and his work. Along with being involved with the campus Environmental Club, Hawkes has done work with the Tapteal Greenway organization and is connected to TEDxRichland, a lecture conference coming to the area in September.
Hawkes’ art has developed as well, from a daily photography challenge to a show highlighting framed derisive or praiseworthy statements often made about art as a commentary on art criticism. For the end-of-semester student art show, he portrayed his Wax Family sculpture series, a group of three heads covered in melted wax and crayons.
He doesn’t brag about his work or talk about it until he’s done. I have definitely learned to trust him.
Sena Clara Creston, associate clinical professor of fine art
Creston said she’s been aware of Hawkes’ talent from the first class she had him in. He’s very driven and very confident in his ideas, noting he didn’t hesitate to display a series of statements about art instead of a more traditional show such as photography in a gallery on campus, she said.
“He doesn’t brag about his work or talk about it until he’s done,” she said. “I have definitely learned to trust him.”
WSU Tri-Cities graduation
Nearly 400 students will graduate from Washington State University Tri-Cities on May 7.
Commencement starts at 1 p.m. at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Doors open at noon.
Most of those graduating are earning bachelor degrees, but more than 40 master’s degrees will be awarded as well as eight doctorates.
The keynote speaker is Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. Student body president Vanessa Alvarez Sanchez and valedictorian Lorenzo Luzi also will make remarks.
Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young will present the Distinguished Alumnus Award to Douglas Hamrick, a retired chemical disposal project manager who has also coordinated the university’s Coug House project with Tri-County Partners Habitat for Humanity.