“I’ve got a lot of decisions to make,” said Erwin, who goes to Oxford High School. “I’m happy that I’ll graduate, but I don’t know if I’m ready.”
His plans are far from settled, but he’s got a general direction in mind.
“I’ve always been interested in working with wood,” he said. “I’ve always been hands-on. Anything working with my hands would be awesome.”
Family members work in construction, and he’s spent plenty of time in his neighbor’s shop. He’s also taken classes at the Oxford-Lafayette School of Applied Technology for the past two years.
Evidence suggests Erwin’s a good learner. He won a regional competition and earned the privilege of competing in SkillsUSA’s cabinet-making state finals.
He and his teacher, Matthew Briscoe, drove to the Mississippi Trade Mart in Jackson on Feb. 26. The contest was the next day.
“I had a table and a little area that was roped off,” he said. “They gave us the wood and the plans.”
He shared three table saws and two miter saws with 17 others. They had about six hours to put their cabinets together. Everyone else hurried for the saws.
“I took my time. I was real meticulous, making sure I got my plans right to get the most out of my cuts,” he said. “But you see 17 people ahead of you and you get a little nervous.”
Some cabinets looked nearly complete when he was just finishing his base. Erwin kept Briscoe’s advice in mind: “No matter how you think you’re doing, just work through it.”
When the competition ended, Erwin’s cabinet lacked doors, hinges and drawers. The top was built but not attached.
“Some of the cabinets looked good on the outside,” he said, “but the doors and drawers were crooked, or the top didn’t fit right.”
He suspected he had a chance at third place, so he was ready to leave when someone else’s name was called for third prize during the awards ceremony.
Not so fast.
“My heart was beating. My hands were sweating. I don’t know why,” he said. “I didn’t believe I could win first.”
Erwin got that first-place medal and a certificate to go with it, as well as a two-year scholarship to community college and a chance to compete at nationals.
He also received confirmation that the lessons his teacher and mentors had shared were 100 percent correct.
“Just do it right, do it good and make something that will bring customers back again and again,” he said.
Erwin isn’t sure where he’ll be five or 10 years from now, but he has some guiding principles that will serve him no matter what he decides.
“I know I’ll keep working with wood,” he said. “It might be a hobby. It might be a job. Who knows?”