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TJ Cantwell - Class of 2001

I ended up at Fork Union as my third high school in 1999 and graduated in 2001. This was not what I was thinking would happen with my high school career, but it was a necessity.

To me, Fork Union was the best and worst place to be. No teenage boy wants to go away to school with a bunch of other guys, and only go home on a weekend every now and then. That’s just the truth. I am sure that every now and then, a cadet comes onto campus excited to start their military career, but from experience I can say that most do not. However, there is no greater experience that I had growing up. Fork Union helped to shape me into the man I am today. It helped to teach me how to be a good and honest person, how to wake up early and work hard – to earn what you get and never have it handed to you. Fork Union took an unfocused kid that liked getting into trouble, and turned him into a Battalion Staff Captain ready to make his place in the world.

After graduating, I attended Hofstra University on Long Island, NY where I studied Political Science and Psychology for five years. While there, I joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, which helped to further shape me. I was Vice President of my chapter, and eventually elected President of the Interfraternity Council. I traveled a lot to help other chapters and attended conferences with brothers from around the country to vote on new and old fraternal laws. I learned at FUMA that having a ranked system is something that I very much enjoy, and like being at the top of (LOL).

After college, I worked as a mortgage broker and wore a suit and tie every day. However, once the economy crashed I started to realize that I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. I was at a crossroads. One day while I was getting some tattoo work done by my good friend, Gage, he asked me what I was going to do with my life since I had left the mortgage world. I laughed and told him I should just open a shop and he could come and work with me (I already gave him most of my money for tattoos anyway). After mulling it over for a bit, he told me that if I were to open a shop he would come and work with me – and that was all I needed to hear. I spent the next four months getting financing, finding a space, and doing all that is required to open a business. On April 1, 2010, I opened Studio 28 Tattoos.

Starting my business was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but also the most rewarding. There were times that I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, and I wondered if I would be able to support a living. I even spent a year-and-a-half sleeping at the business so I could invest in the shop rather than pay rent! That was a very humbling experience to go through, but it proved to me that it would work because I was willing to sacrifice everything to make my business successful. In that year-and-a-half that I spent on the couch, I was able to triple the gross revenue of the business and have doubled that since then. There is no great success without great sacrifice.  

In the last year, my beautiful wife and I have expanded the space to cover two floors in prime Chelsea, NYC. Studio 28 Tattoos and Body Piercing has been open for seven years now, and voted one of the best tattoo and body piercing studios in the city multiple times. And FYI, I still check my staff when they are done cleaning the bathroom to make sure the faucet is polished! The simple lessons that I learned at FUMA are still carried with me to this day, and have helped to grow the success of my business.

All through college and to this day I always speak with friends, colleagues, and even clients about my experiences at FUMA. It wasn’t always the most fun when there, but I never look back to those days without a smile on my face.

The Fork Union Experience is...

“...what you make of it. I know so many people who graduated with me that never pushed forward, and I know others who have propelled themselves into great places.  It’s all what you do with the lessons you learn and how hard you are willing to work to reach your dreams.”