A Chapter in the Story of Justin Sumter

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Caché Goracke

“Every couple of sentences, or every couple lines, I’m just darting my head up for a split second just to see whether or not I’m about to run into somebody.” – senior Justin Sumter

Caché Goracke

He is among the many students that walk from class to class distracted from what’s happening around them and focused, instead, on what they hold in their hands. His device of distraction, however, is not a cell phone. This student, who can commonly be seen walking full speed ahead, eyes locked into a book, full attention stolen by its pages, is senior Justin Sumter.

“Just because you’re going somewhere, doesn’t mean you have to stop what it is you’re already doing,” Sumter said. “So long as you aren’t running into people, so long as you can keep moving, there’s no reason to put the book down.”

Sumter picked up reading in early elementary school and never put it down. In fact, the librarians’ fascination with his enthusiastic reading over the years caused them to print out and gift Sumter a list of all the books he has checked out and read since middle school–the total was over 300 books. 

…welcome to the magical world of whatever the heck it is you’re reading at the moment.”

— Justin Sumter

This passion for reading dates back to his elementary school class excursions to the library. Teachers encouraged the young students to pick whichever books caught their eyes in hopeful attempts to get them excited about reading in general. For Sumter, these attempts were a success. 

“I picked something up,” Sumter said. “God knows what it was. And it just, it was a way of transporting me out of whatever situation I was in–forget about it entirely, welcome to the magical world of whatever the heck it is you’re reading at the moment.”

As far as what Sumter reads, the theme usually stays pretty consistent.

“It’s either something useful like a cookbook,” Sumter said, “or it’s just complete pleasure.” 

While Sumter did in fact borrow a cookbook from the school library once and ended up being the designated beef stroganoff chef for his family’s dinners, it’s usually the fun, more light hearted, books that he’s reading in the halls. To Sumter, “complete pleasure” usually means science fiction, which over time has included all of the Sarah J. Maas series, “Percy Jackson,” “The Ranger’s Apprentice,” and a lengthy list of others. Even the laid back reading though cannot be called useless, as it presents it’s own unique advantages. 

Justin rates his top five favorite books he has read in order.

“Part of it is just the escapism I mentioned,” Sumter said. “But the other part of it is, I adore having knowledge that other people would see as sort of superfluous. That’s generally why I try to pick up a book that sort of, at least tangentially, related to something of this world.”

Right now, for Sumter, that book is the first of a four-volume, 16th-century, Ming-Dynasty series titled “Journey to the West.” This series of classical Chinese literature, written by Wu Cheng’en, follows the journey of a monk in his search for scriptures that will enable everyone to achieve enlightenment. 

“There’s a lot of life lessons piled into this book, it’s hard to pick one,” Sumter said. “[There’s also] demons and gods and crazy monkeys that can somersault over clouds for a thousand miles.”

 Even having read over 300 books, each new one he picks leaves him with its own unique take-away. 

“Hubris,” Sumter said. “Do not fall into the state of hubris. Don’t think of yourself as better than you actually are, or try to reach higher than you can actually achieve.”

So what exactly is Sumter reaching to achieve? Even though English is the easiest subject for him, and a writing career may come natural to someone with such intense reading habits, he is planning on going a different way. In his words, Sumter wants to be the one in crime shows who holds up the test tube of blood and explains exactly how he solved the murder. In other words, he plans on going into forensic science at Washburn University in the Fall. 

“I like science,” Sumter said. “And I like to help people. And I think it would be interesting to have that as my job, to continuously investigate things. It’s also going to be a challenge. Chemistry on its own is just a pain in the butt.”

It’s this mix of science and helping people that drove Sumter to West in the first place, to join the Public Safety 21st Century Program. According to Sumter, if you were to divide up the time he has spent at West into three categories, it would be between the library, the band room (where he plays trombone), and the Public Safety program. 

Now sure, Sumter isn’t exactly a social butterfly. He would admittedly rather be in his own little world most of the time than talk to people, and he is perfectly fine with that. When he does talk, he has a bit of a sarcastic bent, and he has read straight through a great number of school pep assemblies unruffled. To some, this disinterest in popular activities and small talk may make Justin seem uncaring about people in general. He’s not. 

I just figure they need a hand, and I have hands.”

— Justin Sumter

“My top three activities,” Sumter said, “Reading, gaming, helping people. If a fundraiser for the band comes up, or someone needs something done for the Public Safety program, I’m usually one of the first people to throw my name in the ring. I just figure they need a hand, and I have hands.” 

His career choice reflects this quality about him. He may not want to be on the front lines, but in more of an indirect way, the end goal of helping people is very much in his mind, directing his decisions and goals. 

Sumter, who is getting ready to graduate, has been a familiar face in the library, a helping hand in Public Safety, a contributing sound in band, and an idiosyncratic sight in the halls for four years now. While he claims he doesn’t plan on walking around the campus of Washburn University with his head in a book quite the way he walks through West, reading has largely made him the unique individual he is, and there’s no top-secret reason he does it other than his pure enjoyment. 

“I like reading,” Sumter said. “I’ve always just read for the sake of reading.”