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'I am living the American dream:' Student's career signing a first for Hickory Public Schools

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When HayDen DeMarcus Crunkleton was just a little fellow, his mom, Amanda Crunkleton, knew that her son would, someday, do great things. Even though HayDen faced daily bullying from classmates who teased him over his stutter, she constantly encouraged HayDen to be accountable for his actions, to do his best work, and to always respect others.

By the age of 10, while attending Longview Elementary, HayDen took charge of his self-esteem, standing tall to those who made fun of him. He let them know, with a firm but kind acknowledgement, that their behavior was rude and unnecessary. He told them they needed to learn about being kind to others.

And while the teasing from classmates continued through the elementary years, HayDen chose to recognize his challenges, focusing on change while addressing his stutter with determination, setting a new course for success.

With the encouragement of speech therapist Caley Kuenzel, HayDen submitted a letter for publication with the Stuttering Foundation of America. His letter was printed and HayDen was also featured in the Hickory Daily Record, along with a classmate. Kuenzel worked closely with HayDen, teaching him techniques to quell his stutter.

As HayDen went on through the middle school years, eventually starting his first year at Hickory High, the bullying began to subside. HayDen lived his life like most teenagers, but rather than planning for four years of college, he knew his passion would fall into a different path. Fortunately, through the Career Technical Education (CTE) program at Hickory High, HayDen found his fit.

CTE provided several hands-on automotive courses, proving to be the best part of HayDen’s school day. He had always loved working on cars and motorcycles with his grandfather, James Crunkleton, whom he calls PawPaw.

“My PawPaw taught me to respect people and to work hard. As a father-figure all through my life, he brought me with him on weekends to work on construction and to learn some of the mechanics of automobiles and motorcycles,” said HayDen.

Now a senior at Hickory High, HayDen’s strong work ethic is paying off. After enrolling in every CTE class possible during the past three years to support a strong future, HayDen is an intern with Blue Ridge Harley-Davidson. The paid internship is typically 30 hours per week, with enough available time for HayDen to complete all course requirements for graduation.

At Blue Ridge Harley-Davidson, HayDen loves his job, where he is detailing, cleaning, and starting to move forward in the mechanics. And HayDen’s love for his job combined with his work ethic and respect for others has clearly been noticed. The general manager, Matthew Butkovich and service and fixed operations manager, Michael Vasquez Sr., recently offered HayDen the opportunity, upon high school graduation, to start as a full-time company apprentice. The paid-career path would provide HayDen the chance to start as an entry-level technician with all expenses covered for professional training at the corporate offices in Alabama.

And HayDen’s response? “I am living the American dream!” he said. “I figured out my passion and I don’t want to work in a field that I don’t like. I am already making income and I will be able to provide for myself and perhaps one day, a family,” he said.

So, from there, with the organized direction of Jeanne Turner, Hickory High School career development coordinator, the first-ever career signing in the history of Hickory Public Schools, recently took place in the school’s media center. Joining HayDen for the big celebration was his mother, school administrators and staff, his elementary speech teacher, Kuenzel, his automotive teacher, Terry Drum, and representing Blue Ridge Harley-Davidson, Butkovich and Vasquez. Additionally, HayDen’s automotive classmates were present to watch the signing event and to celebrate with HayDen.

“I’m excited about setting a tone and awareness for other students, that through the CTE courses, they can find incredible opportunities to provide life-long success and an excellent income. I hope others will look at what I’ve done, the challenges I’ve conquered, and be inspired to do even better than me!” said HayDen.

“I thank my mom, my brother, Elijah, and my grandparents, James and Charlotte Crunkleton, for believing in me. There was a time when my mom struggled to keep food on the table, but through her work ethic and the example provided by my grandfather, I believed there would be a brighter day ahead. I also want to thank all my teachers, especially Ms. Kuenzel who helped me to gain my confidence back in elementary school, my automotive teacher, Mr. Drum, and Ms. Turner for helping to connect me with Blue Ridge Harley-Davidson.”

“When we interviewed HayDen for his apprenticeship, he was a perfect example of what our corporation looks for in a candidate. ‘Values in Action’ is expressed in everything we do as a business and as a close partner of this incredible Hickory community,” said Butkovich. “As a team, we support each other and hold each other accountable with world-class training and coaching. To our guests, we want to provide a world-class experience through our people and processes.

“It has been an absolute pleasure to bring HayDen into our organization. I believe he embodies these attributes, and we will learn as much from him as he will from us. I look forward to seeing HayDen’s development in this industry and I will continue to support him and push him to reach goals he never thought possible. We hope HayDen will inspire many more Hickory High School students to chase their passions, drive through their fears, and succeed in achieving their dreams,” said Butkovich.

“I am so excited to see HayDen as our first career signing for Hickory High School,” said Turner. “I have been wanting to host this type of recognition for a while, but it never came to fruition. And now, it just all came together so effortlessly.

“Tiffany Botkins, HHS department chair of school counseling, and I have been working to bring awareness to the E3 initiative. This initiative is a focused effort to help students chart a clear pathway to their postsecondary options and career choices, whether it be enrollment in a two or four-year program, enlistment in the military, or employment in a job that promotes growth and advancement.

“HayDen is a very special young man whose heart is so big and whose passion is for motorcycles. And this was evident on the first ‘meet and greet’ with his internship supervisor. HayDen’s first impression upon leadership at Harley-Davidson was clearly strong enough that he was immediately offered employment by his site supervisor, Michael Vasquez. I also have to mention that this is our first internship with Blue Ridge Harley-Davidson and we are thankful to them for partnering with us to build these bridges to gainful employment.”

“As far as HayDen being the first for such a district historical event and with the anticipation of many more to come, it had to be HayDen!” said Turner. “I was visiting our central office and noticed HayDen’s picture on the wall when he was in elementary school. I told HayDen about it and he shared the background story on how Beverly Snowden wrote an article on him based on his essay about stuttering. A little later, I found out that Snowden was retiring from Hickory Public Schools, and she has always been a huge supporter of HPS, CTE, and definitely of me. I knew I had to get at least one ‘career signing’ before she left to help to get this type of signing kickstarted.

“HayDen had to be our first career day signing and one of Ms. Snowden’s final stories for HPS. While it is totally bittersweet for me, it is also a blessing to see each one of them move on to the next chapter of their lives,” said Turner.

According to Drum, HayDen always stated, from day one, he is only taking automotive classes so he can learn how to work on motorcycles. “HayDen would ask me every day why I wouldn’t bring my motorcycle in for him to learn on. I always stated I’m not letting any student touch my motorcycle knowing my motorcycle is my ride home; but I must say, if I had one student who never changed his or her path in high school, it would be HayDen.”

“When Beverly Snowden contacted me about HayDen’s accomplishments and invited me to celebrate with him, I was immediately overwhelmed with joy for HayDen and incredibly honored to be included in the surprise,” said Kuenzel.

“I had not seen HayDen since he was 10 years old. As an elementary student, HayDen exuded integrity, compassion, and tenacity. He was so much fun to teach! I am delighted to learn that HayDen continues to display those same traits as a young adult and that his talents have not gone unnoticed. What a blessing!” said Kuenzel. “I was so excited and honored to cheer HayDen on at the first-ever HPS career signing.”

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