Coral Corollaries: Lessons Learned from a Fish Tank

October 17, 2016

Coral Corollaries: Lessons Learned from a Fish Tank

Student Spotlight: Judson Faulconer ’17

Ask Judson Faulconer ’17 to talk about coral, and you’ll witness a sparkle light up in the eighth grader’s eyes.The sheer volume of information that follows in a steady stream will only brighten the smile on your face. He’ll rattle off the names of species (even using their Latin surnames) as if they are old friends: corals, fish, shrimp…  The way many teenaged boys talk about revered athletes, expertly recounting their stats and describing their performances in Sunday night football games, Judson Faulconer speaks about corals and fish.

This is something you do because you love it. Some people think this kind of hobby is stressful because it takes so much work, but for me it’s a stress-reliever.

Needless to say, Judson’s passion is caring for his fish tank. He actually describes his hobby as more than just a passion; he calls it a labor of love. “It takes a lot of work,” says Judson. “This is something you do because you love it.” Judson’s interest in fish, corals and all things aquatic began a few years ago after hearing stories from his dad. John Faulconer (a Grymes grad himself, class of ’79) owned a saltwater fish tank in college and worked part-time at a fish store. Having had the experience of caring for a tank himself, John knew just how time-consuming and costly a hobby it is and his efforts to deter Judson from taking it on failed miserably. “I begged my dad to let me have a tank, and he and my mom made me do so much research about what it takes to own and care for a tank before they would agree to let me have one. I spent two years bugging them about it and doing all kinds of research on it. I think they thought the work would scare me off, but it didn’t stop me. I was determined!” After two years of patience and persistence, Judson finally convinced his parents that he could handle the responsibility, and with his own money earned from refereeing county soccer games and selling antiques (a small side-business that Judson runs in all of his spare time), Judson purchased his own saltwater tank and began the process of growing his own little ecosystem.

“It’s just so beautiful,” describes Judson when asked what he likes most about his tank. “Some people think this kind of hobby is stressful because it takes so much work, but for me it’s a stress-reliever. If I’m studying for a test or need a break from homework, I disappear into the world of my tank.”

If this sounds to you like an incredibly mature answer from an eighth grader, you’re not mistaken. Judson speaks of the life lessons he’s learned from his tank in a matter-of-fact way. “I’m not a naturally patient person,” Judson jokes. “It’s definitely taught me to be more patient in my day-to-day life.” Patience indeed; some of Judson’s corals grow so slowly that it can take up to two months to show new growth, and some of the changes in the coral “frags” are so slight that they can only be noticed over periods of time. “I’m so much more observant now. I enjoy sitting still and watching the tank, and scrolling through old photos to see how the pieces have changed over time.” The tank has also taught him to be a careful and meticulous planner. “Everything in the system has to get along if it’s going to be successful. Some corals will attack each other, and certain kinds of fish aren’t good at being nice to certain others. You have to think ahead, and plan ahead. And then there’s the process of tracking down the specimens you want and negotiating either a good price or a trade. A lot of thought goes into it!”

Everything in the system has to get along if it’s going to be successful. You have to think ahead, and plan ahead and manage the process deliberately.

The lessons don’t stop there; over the summer, Judson personally raised the funds necessary to purchase a saltwater tank for Grymes, which is now on display in Gardner Hall. “Talk about persistence,” laughs Judson. “Fundraising is not easy, but I definitely learned that people are more willing to give when it’s personal. I got a lot of really generous support from people in the fish community who know me and know how much I love this.” The tank at Grymes is still in its early stages, with one very shy fish and two small shrimp friends, but Judson has big plans for a vibrant ecosystem inside. “It’s going to be a process. I need to wait two weeks before introducing a new animal into the environment, and then I need to watch carefully and make sure everyone’s ok. This is not for immediate gratification!”

When asked why he was so eager to share this labor of love with Grymes, Judson is quick to respond: “Reefs are dying all over the world. In the next few decades they could be all gone. I want to bring awareness to how delicate these systems are. People need to know.”

Valuable life lessons from a fish tank, and from one very determined young man pursuing his passion.


Judson Faulconer ’17 is a Grymes “Lifer.”