John A. Gupton Student Essays

By: Various Students
Wednesday, February 2, 2022

By Estreya McCanna

Its May 2021 and I just started my very first semester of Mortuary school at John A. Gupton College. I logged into my classes to complete some of my first assignments, and it was a discussion board with my classmates in relation to our employment at the funeral home. I thought to myself “wait… what funeral home, I don’t work at one. I’ve never even been inside one, except for some funerals when I was younger and my shadowing experience well over a year ago”. I decided to look at the responses from my classmates first and see what they all had to say. I was floored at how so many of the responses were about working in their parents, grandparents, or Uncle’s/friend of family’s funeral home. 

Reading through these discussions, I started to doubt myself and my place here in mortuary school. I had no “right” to be here, attending a school that’s so specialized to a small percentage of the population. There are so many of my peers in this class, who already are in this field and have been since birth. I have no connection; I don’t know a soul who works at a funeral home or who has ever entered this field, perhaps I’ve put myself where I certainly don’t belong. As weeks passed, I started to stress thinking that, sure I can take and pass all my classes but who is to say I will ever be able to find an apprenticeship, let alone a job. I decided that I wanted to speak with one of my professors about my concerns. I called my professor (Hi Ms. Allen!) and I shared with her my fears and how I felt that I was really coming up short in comparison to my classmates, also sharing with her about how I felt this insurmountable hurdle of falling behind since I am at a disadvantage. I am so inexperienced in all aspects, and how I feel its harmful to my goals. Adding to this that I am also a military spouse, so the longevity of my career in one location was going to get in the way of achieving my dreams. It all sounds very dramatic now, and it certainly was to me that day. 

She told me exactly what I needed to hear. She said I will obviously have obstacles in my way that other classmates won’t face, but that so long as I am willing to work hard, these obstacles won’t hold me back. Feeling more empowered, I decided to buckle down on my studies and be sure in my decision to become a mortician and funeral director. I finished the semester strong and was relieved for the (very) short break that comes between semesters. When fall semester started, we jumped right back into the swing of things and halfway through we started discussing apprenticeships. There it was again, that feeling of dread and short coming. I once again called my professor and just said “what do I even do?”. Again, with encouragement and support she said “You dress for the career you want, take your resume, and go into every single funeral home, introduce yourself and tell them what you are hoping to achieve for an apprenticeship. When you get turned down, don’t give up and try again.” I did just that. It was slow going at first. 

I went into the same funeral homes multiple times to show I was serious and made follow up phone calls. In the meantime, a funeral home had asked if they could give my resume to a gentleman who owns a mortuary transport company. This gentleman called me and did an over the phone interview with me and had me go on a “test run” with him, and just like that, that locked tight door was just nudged open. I worked with Mr. Ronnie for a few months, getting my foot in the door and learning everything there was to learn. As many of you who are experienced death care industry workers know, so much of that learning is something that you can’t get from a textbook. I was blessed to find someone again, who was supportive of me and encouraged me to pursue my goals and go after what I wanted. This gave me the confidence boost to go after my apprenticeship even more. I went into the family-owned funeral home that I had shadowed at 18 months prior and met with the two owners to discuss opportunities for me in their small but mighty business. Imagine my relief when I was able to finally get an apprenticeship and not only get hired but to be hired at one of the best funeral homes in the area! I just recently started, and it has been amazing learning from the best and seeing the core values and strengths of the profession I am so passionate about in action every day.

All of this to say that starting a new career can be incredibly scary. Especially when that career choice feels like a super-secret club that’s hard to get in to. The depth of the people entering this field can go back generations and coming in a first generation is not easy, but not impossible. The truth is when you are passionate about something and you look for support and ask for help, it will come to you. I have been passionate about the Death Care Industry for many years and never felt the time was right to pursue my career. As a military spouse and as a stay-at-home mom for almost a decade, a lot took precedent over my goals and aspirations. 

When the time came, I pursued it full force and with my drive to achieve and pursue a career that I truly feel is my calling, I was able to finally break through a wall that I had labeled impenetrable. I have learned since working in the industry for this very short amount of time, that so many funeral directors and embalmers are NOT children of funeral homeowners. Many do have connections, but it was not this club that I had assumed it was. There are plenty of first-generation funeral directors, more than I had taken the time to realize. There are a lot of people who like me want to come into this realm of business but are worried because they don’t have connections or ties to a funeral home, I hope they find out sooner rather than later that persistence, hard work and a welcoming employer can do wonders to quiet your fear of falling short as an asset to this industry. Going forward, there are only so many relatives and children and acquaintances to hire and this field will have much more “family, who aren’t related” owned funeral homes. 

It’s an industry of wonderful likeminded people who are just like me and all striving for the betterment of our industry and contributing to people’s lives through the dignity, respect, and love given to their loved ones in our care. 

By Cameron Westbrook 

As an eleven-year-old, growing up with the idea of being a funeral director, embalmer, undertaker, etc., was considered a real shock to all my peers since I never had a family connection or any connection for that matter. The sixth-grade career fair piqued my interest by those who worked at Hamlett-Dobson Funeral Home and from there I thought I had it all figured out. Before the pandemic at the age of sixteen, I job shadowed at Gate City Funeral Home in Virginia. By the time looking for colleges came around, I had already decided to go to John A. Gupton while all my friends wanted to be nurses, teachers, and lawyers at a local four-year school. At times it felt like I was being left behind as they pursued more schooling, but I could not be happier where I am in reaching my professional goals.

Currently I attend John A. Gupton college and will be starting my second semester in the spring of 2022 and hope to graduate in December. Everyone seemed to tell me that I may have issues with potential employers who may refuse my service as a woman. Since being enrolled at school, I have noticed that even if there is a bigger percentage of women to men, employers will ask the college for potential workers only if they are male. I am ecstatic to hear of more and more women and young girls finding their passion to help those in the worst time of their life, and even though the trend of more men in the profession is still present, it is declining each year.

As a child growing into adulthood, I did not have many opportunities to witness a funeral. During the first, I was five years old at my great-grandmother’s viewing. I saw her twice and, in my mind, she was asleep and at peace. The only thing that struck me as weird was that both times I saw her she wore the exact same clothes in the casket. It wasn’t until freshman year of high school when one of my friends and classmates passed away that I went to my second viewing. I was nervous to see her because I did not know what to expect when I walked up to say goodbye. I realize now that it was the best idea to see her that last time because she looked soft, and unbothered in her sleep. I wasn’t scared of or for the deceased; I was glad my family, friends, and myself can look as serene as my classmate did, and I wanted to be the one to create and care to such an extent.

Cremation is becoming the next big thing in funeral service due to lower prices rather than purchasing a casket, vault, grave plot, head stone, etc. For some the thought of being buried underground or small enclosed spaces is unsettling. Others do not like the idea of spiders and insects crawling on them. Whatever the reason no matter how irrational is perfectly valid regarding the choice for cremation. As cremations become more popular, there are those who may feel it lacks the formality of a burial, but it all depends on the service given by the funeral director. In my opinion, all services, funerals, and cremations should be as important to funeral directors as a $75,000 funeral, and all families should always be treated with the upmost respect. Cremation cannot be an excuse to brush off a family because it is the cheaper choice. It also should never be discouraged or looked down upon because it is not a traditional form of disposition. However, I implore the idea of viewing or seeing the deceased as it can ease the grieving process as well as help those who might have a difficult time accepting the finality of death.

Funeral service in the year 2022 seems to be all about eccentric new ways to perform services that match the individuality of the dearly departed. Although cremation services are less in price compared to burial, there are newer and more extravagant ways to honor lives. Along with personal little keepsakes that can be made in abundance and purchased by all family if they so desire can mean much more than a standard cremation with or without a viewing. Apart from cremation, other changes are being made to those who request for caskets and burial. For example, there is a possibility to On-Line AssOciAte Degree in FunerAL service 1616 Church Street | Nashville, TN 37203 615-327-3927 | For information concerning cost and program call 615-327-3927, go to our website at or email If you are interested in becoming a licensed funeral professional, John A. Gupton College can help you get there. The Associate Degree in Funeral Service is an accredited program. Our online program is flexible, career-focused and may be completed in 12 or 16 months. Financial Aid is available. 1616 Church Street | Nashville, TN 37203 615-327-3927 | John A. Gupton College has developed online continuing education courses. These courses have been approved for CEU hours by both Tennessee and Kentucky Boards. The online subjects range from funeral service history, embalming techniques, funeral home management, grief psychology and bereavement counseling. For information concerning cost and program call 615-327-3927, go to our website at or email Continuing EduCation on-LinE line caskets with lights for people who, me included, are afraid of being in the dark. Also, for those who find Snow White’s glass case especially magical, caskets with transparent glass may be available for purchase in the future. 

On a final note, as far as trends go in the coming year of 2022, services and dispositions may be changing, but the options of excellent professional service should never be in low supply. I can say in confidence the new funeral directors and embalmers of the generation are being steered and taught in the right direction when it comes to communication, professionalism, and compassion. 



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