With his proud family and friends in attendance and wearing traditional Tongan attire, History major Sione (John) Tu’uta graduated Friday, December 16, 2016. Just prior to graduation, Sione sat down and talked with Student Services Assistant Norene Miller about his love of history, football, and his Tongan heritage.
What made you choose NC State?
There were a couple of different factors – being a football player, I had a bunch of options –Ohio State, Akron, UVA – but when I visited NC State and saw the campus, the fan base, all the academic opportunities and how invested the coaches were in making sure we got a good education, I just fell in love with everything about it. It has the best facilities of anywhere I’ve been – beautiful campus and our alumni are just phenomenal.
Where did you go to high school?
I went to Fork Union Military Academy – a military and college prep school in Fork Union, VA right outside Charlottesville. It was a unique experience academically and socially. It’s an all-male military Christian boarding school and academically we have one class a day for seven weeks. So for example, for seven weeks the only thing you do from 8-2 is math – it’s a completely immersive experience. We didn’t have cell phones or full internet access. When I called my mother, I had to use a pay phone bank. So that was my high school experience and then I got recruited by NC State. After visiting and learning about it and meeting the people – it lined up with the values that had been instilled in me. It seemed like a good place to be as a human, an athlete and a student.
Where did you grow up?
Me and my mother bounced around a lot due to a whole lot of different factors. My mom always just wanted what would be best for me – she wanted me to have the best opportunities. She put her life on hold for me which I greatly respect and appreciate. Right before Fort Union we were in the Salem/Roanoke area of Virginia. My mom had been looking around at the public school systems and they were really highly ranked so that’s why we settled there.
Was your football schedule and academic schedule a challenge for you?
Absolutely. One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about athletes is that we have it easy. I mean, granted the ones that are fortunate enough to be on scholarship do have certain things paid for by the university like our housing and books, which is great, but we have an obligation that takes about 48 hours of our week. We’re up at 5:00 in the morning, we have practice until 1:00 and then we have academics from 1:00 until sometimes 9:00 . And then we still have to go home and do the schoolwork that needs to get done for the next day, and then we have to do extra football things. Sometimes you don’t get to sleep until 12 or 1:00 am and then we have to be back up at 5:00 am.
I remember last Spring semester – when we were tying up our Spring bowl right before the Spring game, I was in my History Senior Seminar, two other History classes, and a Political Science class and I didn’t sleep for more than two hours for about four days because I had so many papers I had to write. And it wasn’t a case of procrastination. It was just that in this major the time conflicts do get a little challenging. A lot of the teachers here are very understanding though and even with the obligations I had, I was able to complete it with good grades.
What are your plans for the future?
It’s kind of funny. I chose my History degree because I always wanted to go into the military even before I went to Military school. I’ve always believed that History is very important to understanding the reasons why wars start and political conflicts. So thinking that I wanted to go into the military that’s why I studied history here. Now this might be a little off subject, but it all ties back in I promise. Athletically – when Coach O’Brien was here he wanted me to get my body weight up to 353 pounds. Well, when Coach Doeren got here, we moved to the no huddle offence which meant that he liked smaller, more athletic guys. He told me, if you want to play here, you need to lose some weight so I ended up getting my body weight to where I am now – 239 pounds. I lost over 115 pounds. In that process, I had a lot of good mentors in the Athletic Department and I had a massive body transformation and I’ve been able to help other guys on the team with that. The Athletic Department urged me to become a Strength Conditioning Coach and they’re expanding that opportunity to me next semester. So I’m going to do a voluntary unpaid internship here as a Strength Conditioning Coach and see if that is a career path I’d like to pursue; and if that is the case, I would love to be able to stay here at State because I feel like it’s home now. But if it turns out that is not what I want to do, I’ll join the military. But the Athletic Department are very confident that with my work ethic and how I’ve been able to help the guys in the past, that even if I don’t get a job here at State, they think I’d be a good fit at other institutions.
Which military branch are you interested in?
I’d love to be an Army Ranger. I had a very good mentor at Fort Union Military Academy who served seven tours in Vietnam – he was an Army Ranger and just one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. Being an Army Ranger you’re at the top of it and if I’m going into the military I want to be Special Forces.
Have you always loved History?
I’ve always been fascinated with history especially wartime history. That’s one of the things I appreciate about NC State – the classes here. I’d like to give a special thank you to Professor Dean Bruno. He really expanded what I find interesting about history. He’s been able to teach me why history’s important even when it’s not a global conflict. He was able to get me excited about Environmental History – you have to be a special professor to be able to do that.
I know that this journey through college isn’t just about doing something to be able to find a career or get a job, but this is a time of our lives where we get to figure out who we want to be. I have a degree that says yes, I’m qualified to be a Historian, but the classes we take and the journey we walk here is a big determination of who we’re going to be in life and the degree just says what we can be if we want to.
Tell me about your Tongan Heritage.
Being Tongan is something I’m very proud of. In America we always talk about everyone being different/unique but there is no identity. Being Polynesian is different in so many aspects. Like in America we’re obsessed with time, we’re always connected to technology, but in Tonga its more about family, religion and relaxing – the stereotypical island life. I don’t think there has ever been a time when being Polynesian has negatively affected me. People want to know about my culture. And it’s very different from what we see in Hawaii which has become super commercialized. Tonga is one of the last places that hasn’t been infiltrated by the commercial world. They’ve been able to keep their identity although they are struggling with that now with China fishing their waters and buying up a lot of their businesses.
As a history major, I looked at warfare in Tonga, their techniques, their obsession with cannibalism. We were known as the Friendly Islands but one of the stories I came across is that when the British were looking to take slaves, they stumbled upon the Tongan islands and the Tongans killed everyone on the British ships, ate them and strewed parts of them around the islands. The British never came back.
The Polynesians are known as being nice and inviting and would give you the shirt off their back. Everyone shares. And they are also fiercely loyal. But they’re intense particularly in warfare.
Do you have those same characteristics?
Absolutely. A couple of years back we had to describe our teammates in one word and out of 117 people, I think 83 said that I was either loyal or hardworking. So I do believe that is a characteristic that has spilled over onto me.