A senior year to remember for Brookwood School’s top grads

Thomasville Times-Enterprise, Pat Donahue
THOMASVILLE — For nearly all their lives, they have been classmates and on occasion teammates.
So the Brookwood School’s top graduates have one last item to share — the class of 2020’s ultimate honors.

Lilly Jackson and Holland Walker are the co-valedictorians, and Thompson Miles and Mollie Vick share the co-salutatorian distinction.

Walker, Miles and Vick have been together since pre-kindergarten. Jackson is the relative newcomer — she started at Brookwood in kindergarten.

The Brookwood class of 2020 will hold its commencement May 30 at the Beverly Athletic Center and social distancing will be in effect.

Even with more than a dozen years together, their final year has been unique, thanks in no small part to the COVID-19 pandemic that kept teachers and students at home for the final two months.
However, there have been many bright spots along the way, they agree.

“There are peaks and valleys in life,” Vick said. “Sometimes you just have to adjust and push through the hard times while looking forward to a brighter tomorrow. ” For Vick and Walker, they earned a highlight just in the nick of time. They were part of the Brookwood girls state basketball championship team, and their celebratory pep rally was held not long before the pandemic sent students and teachers home for good brought the curtain down on all extracurricular activities.

Vick and Walker also were teammates on the Lady Warriors soccer team, which began a promising year with a win over region rival Deerfield-Windsor.

“But then things changed as we moved to an online learning format for the remainder of the school year,” Vick said.

“While these last few weeks have been extremely chaotic, this last year has been one to remember,” Walker added. “I have made amazing memories with my friends I will never forget. From winning the state championship in basketball to homecoming week at school, this year has truly been special.”

With their high school education now a chapter on the edge of being closed, each young lady has a different favorite class.

Jackson’s favorite class has been science, ever since she had Mrs. Stauffer as a teacher in lower school. By that token, her favorite upper school teacher has been biology teacher Carol Sheftall.
“She has so much love for science that it’s infectious,” Jackson said. “She always made a point to teach different learning styles and show us how art and science can connect. Without her I probably wouldn’t be thinking about scientific illustration as a possibility.” Jackson also recently took second place in U.S. Rep. Austin Scott’s annual congressional art contest with a piece she called “Nesting Fears.” “My inspiration for my piece in the congressional art competition was the idea of the irrationality of fear,” she said. “Its name, ‘Nesting Fears,’ is because the phrase ‘fear nests in your mind’ was what really stuck with me. I had been doing a series on birds for my AP portfolio, so it ended up fitting nicely.”

For Walker, her favorite subject has been history.

“Whether it’s American history, European history, or world history, it has always captivated me,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of teachers throughout high school who have impacted me greatly, and I do not think I have a clear favorite.”

Walker said she does admire her history teacher for the last two years, David Grooms.

“He is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about what he teaches,” she said. “He pushes his students and always expects the best out of them. His class has, without a doubt, inspired my love for history and driven me to be a better student in general.” 

Miles’ favorite course has been AP Human Geography, taught by Susan
 Vann. “This class was very small, which allowed for a little more flexibility and made it so much fun,” she said. “I also really loved Mrs. Vann, the teacher, who is one of the smartest people I know. She taught me so much, and I feel like this class has helped me so much with every course I’ve taken since. Even though it was very difficult, it was worth it to see my hard work pay off.”

It was hard for Vick to pick just one favorite teacher, but one of them was Keith Massey, who taught her AP Calculus. “He always made class fun by making us laugh,” she said. “Before our recent online AP exam, we had a Google Meet one last time to prepare. He gave us the best pep talk ever and even got choked up about how he was going to miss our class. I also will miss him and all our great teachers.” Vick also had a passion for journalism at Brookwood. She was on the yearbook staff for four years and was editor-in-chief this past year. “It has been great working with an awesome staff and compiling and organizing memories for Brookwood’s 50th anniversary yearbook,” she said. “2020 will certainly be a year to remember and being able to play a part in that has been really special.”

As varied as their favorite courses are, so too are their destinations. Walker is headed to the University of Georgia and there, she is looking forward to meeting new people from all walks of life, she said.

“I am excited to be in a new place that contains endless possibilities for me to explore,” she said.
Walker has not decided on a course of study at UGA but she eventually wants to do something that will impact the lives of others.

“I have a strong desire to work with and help people living in disenfranchised and overlooked communities,” she said.

Vick is headed to Georgia Tech, where she plans to major in industrial engineering and perhaps minor in technology and business.

She also plans on rushing a sorority, playing in intramural or club sports, getting involved in a church and going to athletics events — all while working hard in school.

“I can’t wait to get involved in campus life,” she said.

Miles will be going to the University of Georgia. There, she will be enrolled in the Terry College of Business, with a double minor in Spanish and religion.

“I am most looking forward to all the opportunities I will have: with learning, meeting new people, and experiencing new things,” she said.

Jackson’s plans may be the most unique. Her route to college is taking a detour.

She’s taking a gap year in Argentina and said she’s not sure where she will go to college.

“I would love to tell you what I was most looking forward to,” Jackson said, “but at the moment, it’s still a really big question mark. I am looking forward to making new friends and learning more about my passion for science wherever I end up.”

Their interests and future paths vary. But they’ve shared more than a decade together at Brookwood and shared a senior year — particularly its final two months — they won’t soon forget.

The class of 2020’s final year got off to a great start, Vick pointed out.The senior class won the powder puff football game, and Vick also enjoyed her final season of softball.

“I really enjoyed being with my senior classmates and participating in all the senior related activities,” she said. “These past few months could have been really hard, but our school did a great job with the transition to online learning. I have continued to work hard academically and focus on spending quality time with my family. I have also reflected on my 14 years as a Warrior and growing up in such a great place like Thomasville. I will never forget the special people and memories and will certainly not take for granted each day that God gives us.”

Jackson said the last year has been good. One benefit for her the last two months is her sisters, who attend school elsewhere, have been home.

“I think you build up your senior year really big in your mind,” Jackson said, “so when it ends up being like any other year or goes terribly wrong, it’s hard because it’s disappointing. These last few weeks have been like that. I am lucky though because my family is safe and all at home.”

Miles too said the final year at Brookwood has been fun.

“There is so much build-up to being a senior anywhere, but especially at Brookwood, because of all the special privileges and experiences we have,” she said, “and it was totally worth the wait.”
The 2020 seniors bonded, Miles said, through events such as pep rallies, sports and a senior breakfast with Headmaster Dr. Randy Watts.

There were other experiences such as lunch with each other playing with their first-grade buddies.

“I think we really made the most of every moment, which I am very grateful for,” she said. “I am also very thankful for the time I’ve gotten to spend with my family before I head to college.”

Miles, who was a cheerleader this past year for the first time, called the homecoming pep rally one of her favorite senior year moments.

“The amount of hard work we have to put into a pep rally makes it so rewarding to pull off,” she said. “In addition to this, my class made an effort to be as loud and supportive as possible, which was so fun. I have a picture of all of us when Dr. Watts presented the senior class with the ‘spirit stick,’ and the joy on all of our faces is super sweet.

“Overall, the sense of community I’ve had at Brookwood with classmates, teachers, and younger students, such as our sweet first grade buddies, is something I will forever cherish,” Miles added, “and I think I realized this a lot throughout my senior year.”

The COVID-19 pandemic curtailed their senior year, but the soon-to-be former Brookwood students are looking fondly on the time they have spent together — right up until the last moment of their high school days.

Jackson noted the pandemic will take up a big spot when, in the future, she looks back on her senior year.

“But that’s why I also really appreciate the efforts of Brookwood to organize a live graduation and the senior parade,” she said.

“When I think back at quarantine, I’ll have those memories to kinda lighten it up.”

Miles said the last few weeks have been difficult but she was enjoying her senior year so much, which made her hate it even more that it got cut short.

“However, Brookwood has done so much to accommodate for that and make things up to us as much as possible, which I really appreciate,” she said.

“In March, the world changed dramatically for seniors across our country and the world,” Vick said.

“I feel like it is now time for the Class of 2020 to help change the world for the better and I hope I can play a part in that effort.”

It will be the small moments shared with her classmates Walker believes will stand out when she looks back on her senior year.

“Whether it was on the floor in the commons, at a lunch table, or in the classroom, we always were having a good time,” she said.

“I have developed meaningful relationships with each of my classmates that I’m sure will last a lifetime.”
Located in Thomasville, GA, Brookwood School is a private school for grades JK-12. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.