By Fatimah Townsend
JA Guest Writer
It has been a month since graduating from high school. People seldom discuss the mental effects your last year of school causes on students. Though many people have the luxury of parties and living their senior year to the fullest, I sat in contemplation, missing many events. In my junior year, I mentally checked out, trying to adjust to everyday life after the pandemic.
So, my senior year was a point that I never thought I’d reach – losing so much so quickly throughout high school while so young, I felt as though I had lost myself. I found comfort in one teacher in particular.
Mr. Shannon Thames was assigned to be my dual credit instructor at Jim Hill High School. My class was his first K-12 class after expanding his career from being a professor and advisor at Jackson State University for over a decade. I took it upon myself to talk to him and understand what to expect in life after high school.
The first question I asked Mr. Thames was, “How do you recognize the potential in a student?” His response was “the student’s willingness to learn, their work ethic, and most importantly, their ability to develop critical thinking and analytical skills.” I knew he saw this potential in me because, throughout my two years in his class, Mr. Thames pushed me to accomplish tasks even though I did not feel like doing them. I asked, if he were to look back, did he see that potential in himself in school; he stated that he did, but he let societal pressures cause distractions he did not have to have in his life.
My favorite thing about Mr. Thames is that he does not sugarcoat anything when talking to us. Of course, there was always a time and a place for everything, and he implemented that in his classroom. His room was like a haven for not just me but also many students in my school. Sometimes, we would sit in his classroom because we needed someone to talk to, whether about family, relationships, or school-related issues. He ensured every student felt they had someone to talk to and laugh with.
I then continued our conversation by asking, “What challenges could have been avoided in his professional career?” He responded, “Placing too much emphasis on loyalty and service.” He explained that he would pick up extra work to help relieve a coworker who may need help or discredit himself and his work for the benefit of others. His stating this touched me because I have seen him go out of his way for his coworkers more than once by lending a hand whenever they needed it; yet, his coworkers did not reciprocate the energy. Towards the end of this school year, the effects and stress of helping others weighed upon him, burning him out. I asked if he could carry this lesson into the next academic school year, and he stated that he would and he would prioritize himself more to prevent such burnout in the future.
The final topic in our conversation was, “How has the environment he was raised in shaped his outlook on life and his decisions in his life both at home and location-wise?” Mr. Thames then explained to me how his parents held their household. Once his mother went to school, she worked night shifts as a nurse while his dad put his career on hold to protect his children from the neighborhood. Mr. Thames was born and raised in Compton, California, where the local gangs and young population began terrorizing the communities. Mr. Thames’s father knew that if he had not been in the home at night, his children might find themselves in trouble; they had no idea how it could impact their lives and others. Mr. Thames explained that this saved himself, his brother’s life, and several childhood friends who needed a father figure.
Mr. Thames does not know how much he has changed and impacted my life by being there. He adapted to each of our learning styles and saw that we completed our work as best as possible, even on days when we could do nothing but show up. He pushed me into opportunities I felt were useless, but in all actuality they changed everything in my life. He allowed me to see there is more in the world than what I have seen and been through. Showing me I can do more or better than those with more and still bring myself to a point I am proud to say I have accomplished.
After this interview, I sat in deep thought, reflecting on many contributing factors. There are many of us who grow up in such a hostile environment and see so many young, lost souls lose their lives on petty materialistic ideas. It made me question what I truly want to do in my life. How can I prevent more generations from growing up in such harsh conditions where many feel they will not make it past the age of 21 and do not take life seriously until it is too late?
I have this growing uncertainty that I have carried the entire school year, “What do I want to do?” This was asked to me so many times that I started to get frustrated hearing this question because I seldom was asked how I was doing.
Many people felt that my decision on where to continue my education trumped the fact that I am struggling to grow into my new young adult life. Understanding everyone is coming from a place of love led me to see that many of my peers may not feel these actions as love.
How can one plan for a future they do not believe they have? Every academic decision I chose, I took with deep thought and contemplated every outcome imaginable for months, praying that I was not making the wrong decisions.
I now empathize with my peers because, through this process, I felt so isolated from the world that I did not stop to notice high school seniors across the country were going through the same phase of life. They are under pressure that every decision they make today will affect their future, causing doubt in their choices. Walking into the following stages of their life with the nagging feeling that they will not succeed or maybe they made the wrong choice.
So, as I walk into the next chapter of my life, I take with me the doubts, stressors, and worries of senior year and try to relieve the future graduating classes of this stress. It is okay not to know what path we may choose and accept. We may have many. Remembering the advice Mr. Thames gave me as a gift to others, “Do not compare yourself to others; you are doing what you need to do for your life, not others.”