By Thomas Sellers Jr.
With millions of U.S. children not completely sure on how the 2020-21 school years will proceed, August has tons of more uncertainty than in years past.
The normal August brings a measure of anxiety and anticipation for students in pre-school, elementary, middle school, high school or college. Time is almost near for new classes, new teachers, new encounters, new lessons and new opportunities.
Out of all those grades and levels, the group looking forward to the school year the most is normally the incoming high school senior. The Class of 2021 is on deck. And those children just witnessed their peers from the Class of 2020 limp to the finish line.
Now the COVID-19 soaked baton is being passed to them for their senior year. This issue hits close to home for me with my Goddaughter Taliyah Chalmers preparing for her final year of high school at Millington Central High School.
Time has flown by from the 11-year-old Millington Middle School band member I met, to the young woman who is a Millington Star intern and West 10 Media Youtube producer.
In between her work schedule, she squeezes in solid grades, choir and still a part of her beloved band. Back in June, Taliyah wasn’t too worried about how coronavirus was going to impact her senior year.
By the time July came to a conclusion, most of our conversation centered around a virtual school year, limited time on campus and the cancellation of traditional events.
I always told Taliyah, “Your junior year is your best year because you are an upperclassman who has perks but none of the pressure of being a senior. Make the most of it.”
Wow, now those words have taken on a totally different meaning. Recently I asked my Goddaughter to compose her top 10 list of things she would miss during a global pandemic school year. The 10 items below on this week’s The Best Sellers’ List are from Taliyah. But I will express my thoughts from a Godparent’s prospective.
- Being able to go to school
Several students will have at least one day they wake up dreading to go to school. Whether it is a test or a challenge in P.E., you just wish the building would disappear.
And those early mornings can be tough on a child who needed an extra minute or two on TikTok or Youtube the night prior.
But once the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, state government and your local school system starts telling you school will be closed, you start to desire those little things. You want to race to the classroom to beat the bell. Overflowing hallways with your secret crush walking on the opposite side at the exact same time each day will be missed.
Your principal’s announcements over the intercom will be music to your ears. These are things you realize your miss when you’re about 10 years removed from high school. But a member of the Class of 2021 has his or her fingers crossed hoping to enjoy those things now.
- Senior picnic
I tell Taliyah once you graduate you’ll be amazed by how you won’t see any of those people you interacted with 720 days. At Raleigh-Egypt in 1999, we had Senior Skip Day and Senior Awards Day. Senior Award Day was the last time we were all together on campus as an entire class.
Could March 13, 2020 be the last time the MCHS Class of 2021 was all together on campus until graduation? That is a scary question for those children. Most of them have known each other since E.A. Harrold and Millington Elementary school.
That’s why your administration schedules that Senior Picnic because it is the last time before your graduation all of you will be together as a cohesive unit. I pray by the spring, things will be at a point the Class of 2021 can enjoy this rite of passage.
- Pep rallies
A pep rally is awesome for two main reasons. First it gets you pumped for a big event like a rival football game or big standardized test. Then the second and most vital reason is getting you out of class for a few minutes. It’s a great way to end the school day.
But the foundation of a pep rally is sitting with your class and outshining the other three groups in the gym. The timid freshmen are soaking in the atmosphere with a degree of fear. Sophomore are there with a sense of relief not being the babies of the bleachers.
The juniors are in the middle of an identity crisis. They think they are cool enough to hang with the seniors but gravitate toward the underclassmen to have an aura of power.
But the Class of 2021 might now get to experience that moment in the sun as the “Big Dawgs” on campus. What you have worked for the past 12 years is the right to sit in the senior section and unofficially win every pep rally because it is your 12th grade year.
- Club activities
Parents know the task of having a child who participates in after-school activities. You have to adjust your schedule around his or her schedule. Thank God for those things students can do during school. But even those become homework assignments for parents.
Taliyah took her new-found love of journalism to her academic schedule. She was part of the MCHS Yearbook and we would tackle assignments for her class.
With Taliyah being a part of the choir and band, her assignment would become my challenge.
“You need to get pictures for Ms. Watkins’ class because I’ll be singing.” All I could do is get my list of needed pictures and make my Goddaughter look good to her teachers.
After a long day of work, you look at your calendar and see you have a car wash, cake sale or concert. Those moments of dreading the time away from your recliner transform into a sweet appreciation when you see your child bonding with his or her peers. Every second is valuable and you realize how those clubs have a priceless impact on your child.
Naturally if Taliyah is going to miss clubs, she would miss those post 2:15 p.m. practices. Music to ears was hearing the breakdown chant from the Trojan Marching Band. Taking a halfway nap in my car waiting for Taliyah’s departure, that loud sound penetrating out of the Band Room into the Millington sky meant I was minutes away from seeing my Goddaughter.
Sometimes she would come to the car frustrated and upset about her performance. Then other times she had a joyous smile on her face because she got her part down to near perfection.
There were a few times I was woken up by a child’s voice, “Good job today Taliyah.” I would open my eyes to see a glow coming from my LeaLea.
That confirmation illustrates the two most important factors of after-school practice. It helps young people understand they will need to support others. And practice really does help you get better at music, sports and even school.
- Sporting events
How do you earn more importance in your Godchild’s life? It’s easy — time. You spend time with them. Taliyah was a member of the Millington Lady Trojan Basketball team as a freshman. I became her ride to away games. We started to bond. Then as her sophomore year began, she asked could she join me for an away football game at my old stomping grounds. Millington vs. Raleigh-Egypt created Millington and Raleigh-Egypt. Or as we’re known today as Team TNT.
From Brighton to Munford to Rosemark to Memphis, The Millington Star Sports Department is Thomas and Taliyah. Of course when she’s not taking notes, running stats or handling the camera, Taliyah squeezes in some teenage moments.
She will chat with her longtime friend Joesph Nutzell or some of the athletes will give her suggestion for Youtube.
All of that could be limited or come to an end in 2020-21 if this pandemic is not under control soon.
When you have a Godchild singing and playing the saxophone, prepare for part of your December to be spent in the new Millington Performing Arts Center.
OK, I will admit I have been seen crying when Taliyah has a solo as part of the Women’s Choir. And I do snap a few more pictures of her during the band’s Christmas concert compared to the other students. I’m just a proud Godpops in those moments.
I bet she’s going to miss being on center stage with the spotlight on her and her peers. They work hard for that moment of recognition. I’m scared I won’t get that final solo with Taliyah as a part of Chamber Choir. I won’t to hear another amazing production by the children with their instruments creating harmony.
I didn’t go to my senior prom. So I don’t get why this is ranked so high on her list. But if there is a MCHS Prom 2021, I will make sure The Millington Star is on location to do an in-depth feature so I can gain a better understanding of why prom is so important.
I might even interview Taliyah and her date. I will make sure I have a long list of questions for the young man. I might have to take a seat in between the “couple” to get a better view of their prospective.
So if she doesn’t get a prom this year, I won’t be shedding a single tear. But if we have the prom this year, I have to get me a nice tuxedo and be that third wheel.
- Performing on the field
Friday Night Lights is a term dedicated to the young men who put on the pads and cleats for football in the fall. But those lights also shine on another group — the band.
That 10 to 20 minutes devoted to halftime belongs to the marching band. Taliyah takes her formation, band director and steps seriously. I once caught her in the front yard of my parents’ Frayser home going through her routine.
Once we drove past the band room, “There goes our practice field. But it won’t be next year because we have more people.”
Taliyah was excited about the growth of the band under guidance of Band Director Kreston Smith. Every bit of sweat, memorization and practice pays off on Friday nights with the National Anthem, fight song, pep tunes and the halftime show.
I pray my little girl gets to do all those things at least once this fall. And she was looking forward to her mom, dad and me escorting her onto the field for Senior Night. I always told her, I won’t do it because I’ll be behind the camera.
Most of the time in Team TNT, Taliyah is right and Thomas is wrong. I’m praying once again Taliyah is right and I will be escorting her on the field this fall. I pray to God I get this one wrong.
One assignment I know in 2021 I won’t have Taliyah by my side will be the MCHS Graduation. She will be a participant. But I will still bring an assistant because once they call out the name Taliyah Lanay Chalmers, I will be a bucket of tears.
But will she graduate like the Class of 2020 in two separate ceremonies? Will she be walking across the stage without a picture with Principal Mark Neal? Will she earn her diploma after a school year online a majority of the time?
All of Taliyah’s concerns are legit and will be effected by the global pandemic in some form. As the children across the nation prepare for a school year of first and uncharted territories, it is time to create new traditions. It’s our chance to make new benchmarks. The Class of 2021 has a chance to rewrite history. I challenge Taliyah and her peers to take the past and this uncertain future to formulate a present for today.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.