“It was always interesting,” Pucetas says. “Up until the 9th grade, all us boys lived upstairs. We called it the ‘Bunkhouse’ because we had a bedroom with three sets of bunk beds.”
Pucetas was adopted by his parents, Marsha and Randy, when he was just two weeks old – they’re the only family he’s ever known. In addition to their six biological children (five boys and one girl), the Pucetas family also includes Brett, his two adopted sisters and two adopted brothers. The children range in age from 31 to 10.
In the Pucetas household, education is important. So are sports. Pucetas’ parents and his brothers all play high school and college sports, and as a boy, he dreamed of following in their footsteps.
“I grew up with my heart set on playing sports at Clemson,” he said. “Starting in the seventh grade, I played soccer and football, and I started wrestling in the ninth grade.”
When it was time to go to college, Pucetas had a solid grade point average, but didn’t have the standardized test scores to qualify for entry into Clemson. It was a hard knock, and he was unsure what to do next. When SMC offered him a place on the wrestling team, he accepted, but wasn’t sure it was the right decision until after his first semester.
“I love it here now,” he said. “The students are all so close-knit. It’s really like a family.”
His parents work hard to provide for their large family, and they wanted to instill that work ethic in their children, Pucetas says. “My mom and dad pay for my tuition, but they expect all of us to pay for our living expenses during school.”
Pucetas paid his housing costs by working as a sous chef in a local restaurant, sometimes getting in 35-40 hours per week. After his shifts ended at nine or ten p.m., he’d hit the library until midnight most nights. And he managed to maintain a 3.5 GPA.
“I was able to balance it all because working and wrestling made me careful about managing my time,” he said.
After two years and plenty of hard work, Pucetas’ dream of attending Clemson is coming true. This fall, he’ll enroll as a junior transfer student and major in special education.
“I did a lot of service learning in high school, and I always enjoyed working with the special needs students and helping with the Special Olympics,” he said. “I’d like to manage or direct a center that provides services for people with disabilities.”
On Saturday, as Pucetas walks across the stage to accept his SMC diploma, his entire family will be in the audience cheering him on. From there, he’ll spend the summer working his restaurant job, as well as another job with a local pest control company to save money for Clemson. This fall, he and his brother, John, who will be a sophomore at Clemson, plan to get an apartment together.
“I’m really excited about the fall,” Pucetas said. “And I know that without coming to SMC, Clemson wouldn’t have happened for me.”