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Posted on September 16, 2019 at 9:00 AM by Sharon Hoggard
Kevin Thomas never got the full college experience, but he got some higher education aboard the Mississippi Voyager.
For 90 days straight, Thomas slept inside one of the giant oil tanker’s cabins. Small enough to be a dorm room, the 20-year-old had the room to himself — the bed, his own bathroom, a small refrigerator and closet. He even had a TV equipped with satellite channels. The WiFi worked for the most part, if the ship wasn’t too far out at sea. But instead of hallways bustling with stressed out students, Thomas, 20, found himself surrounded by an older oil tanker crew, mostly in their 40s, walking around shoulder-to-shoulder on the ship deck or in its loud, disorienting engine room.
Thomas, a Churchland High School grad, was by far the youngest crew member of the 35 or so on the Mississippi, a tanker belonging to Chevron Shipping Company. Last year, he was launched into the career thanks to an internship with the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy in Norfolk. He spent part of that internship working on a tugboat belonging to Crofton Industries. “All this just fell in my lap,” Thomas said recently during his last week of a two-month vacation. Any minute, he was expecting a phone call from Chevron. He'll be told which ship he'll be working on for the next three months and where. He'll land in California, Texas or Florida.
In the last year, Thomas said he has grown comfortable in a new career on the water. His first 90 days on the Mississippi took him between San Francisco and Los Angeles, where the ship would load and unload oil. He had time to visit each city. The ship even took a 25-day maintenance voyage to Singapore, which Thomas rode along for. He spent a week exploring the city with the ship crew until his long flight home to Portsmouth. Along the way, Thomas feels like he's communicating better with people around him. He's learning about saving money.
He’s earning between $40,000 and $50,000, with overtime. That’s not far off from the $50,004 the National Association of Colleges and Employers calculated as the average starting salary for 2018 college graduates.
Today, he sports a fancy, big watch, a pair of nice loafers and button-down shirt. He rides around town in a Lexus, which he bought while home on his first vacation. His mom, a nurse, uses it while he’s out at sea. He still holds on to the idea of helping his dad start his own barbershop. “You’re living a life you wanted to live — but without college,” he said of his gig in maritime.*
*Story by Gordon Rago, Staff Writer