Valedictorian Hunter Sidell: When he felt all was lost, he found a home and his purpose in Guam

Valedictorian Hunter Sidell: When he felt all was lost, he found a home and his purpose in Guam

Valedictorian Hunter Sidell: When he felt all was lost, he found a home and his purpose in Guam

Hunter Sidell, co-valedictorian of the University of Guam’s Class of Fañomnåkan 2024
Hunter Sidell with his mom, Dawn Sidell, who flew out from Washington for his graduation on May 19 and to hear his valedictorian class address.

Photo of Hunter Sidell posed by the RFK Library

When the biggest typhoon to hit Guam in 20 years made landfall in May 2023, most UOG students were hunkered down with their families, thankful that the semester had just ended so they wouldn’t have to worry about finals on the other side of the storm. But on one front porch, in the midst of all the wind and rain of Typhoon Mawar, Hunter Sidell was huddled over textbooks, trying to keep the pages from rustling while he studied for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT.

“The date was already set for me to take the exam, so I was like, ‘Well, every second counts,’” he said.

His two weeks of studying after the storm hit weren’t any easier — studying by candlelight without access to online resources. “There was no water, no power, and I had the biggest test of my life coming up in just two weeks.”

When his test date was delayed another several weeks, he didn’t know whether to feel relief for the extra study time or dread due to the prolonged stress. But the test date eventually came, and seven and a half hours later, he was done.

“It’s not a test I want to take again,” he said with a laugh.

His determination to focus during a chaotic time paid off. Sidell scored in the 92nd percentile on the exam. He carried his studying habits through the rest of his senior year and received the honor of becoming co-valedictorian of the University of Guam’s Class of Fañomnåkan 2024, along with psychology major Lidio Fullo.

A phone call that changed his course

Photo of Hunter Sidell with his professor and classmate after fieldwork

What drove him to these two major accomplishments was a sense of purpose that he admitted he didn’t have his whole life. In his commencement address, he shared how he lost hope for a time after high school. At that time, he lived in the state of Washington. Lacking confidence in his abilities, he wasn’t sure about college. He had lost his job and suffered an injury that limited his movement for six months. Then making matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it felt like even more doors were closing.

Then one day he got a call from his dad — an obstetrics and gynecology doctor who had been working in Guam for many years — inviting him to move to Guam for a fresh start at finding his purpose.

“I thought to myself, ‘Guam? I’ve never even heard of Guam. What country is that in?’ But […] I took a leap of faith. I nervously hopped on a plane without a return ticket and didn’t look back,” he said.

‘I felt like UOG was a family’

Upon arriving, Sidell said the first thing he noticed was the “exceptional hospitality and love for one another that you just don’t see anywhere else.” Before he knew it, he felt like part of the community. When he was considering UOG, he talked with faculty and the admissions staff to get a feel for what it might be like. “They were so inviting,” he said. “It kind of took the pressure [of college] off me.”

In the states, he felt that college was highly competitive, like a rat race with everyone trying to get ahead of each other.

“I never felt that at UOG,” he said. “I felt like UOG was a family where everyone was just trying to help each other. And that’s when I knew I would feel comfortable, safe, and loved here. […] Anytime I fell down, they picked me up, and it compelled me to also pick them up.”

He came to learn about the physician shortage on island and said his purpose became very clear: “This island, I want to make it my home. It is my home, and I want to come back and give back to the island as a physician.”

Applying philosophy to medicine

Photo of Hunter Sidell guiding kids in an activity

Sidell said he has received invaluable mentorship from his father on the hardships he would face and the classes he would need — especially considering that Sidell chose to major outside of the sciences in philosophy. And he said he’s really excited to apply what he learned in his major to the field of medicine.

“Philosophy helped me wrestle with how to deal with complex ethical dilemmas,” he said, adding, “Medicine is confronted with tons of ethical issues every day. So if I can have the tools to make the hard decisions that physicians often face, then I’ll feel very confident pursuing that career.”

One of his favorite memories at UOG was when he helped philosophy faculty Dr. Jonathan Wurtz and Dr. Brett Fulkerson-Smith hold the Philosophy Camp for kids. They engaged the kids with lots of games and activities that later prompted a discussion. They talked about everything from bullying to the illegal dumping problem in Guam.

“I think asking these tough questions to children young is a good thing because it helps them develop critical thinking skills that they can apply as adults when they’re out there changing the world,” Sidell said.

Next steps and future goals

Having passed the MCAT and having graduated on May 19, Sidell will now start applying to medical schools and will be making time to have fun, travel, and reunite with old friends. He also plans to gain more hospital and clinical experience through internships prior to hopefully beginning medical school in 2025. He will be looking for schools that align with his values and priorities of bringing medical care to those in marginalized communities.

As for a particular specialty, he said he will keep an open mind as he gains experience, but he said neurology or neurosurgery are compelling, as he has a particular fascination with the brain.

“Blame philosophy for that,” he laughed.


Photo of Hunter Sidell speaking at the graduation podium