“A change of scenery helps you grow,” said WillJay Steger in the opening of his Chapel Talk, delivered on April 9. And, WillJay shared what was a big change for him, beginning last year. The experience of coming to Amelia Academy changed his perspective, to say the least.
Even though he loves his hometown of Norfolk, WillJay said that he was glad he came to Amelia. He found out about the Academy from an AAU teammate, Kameron Harris, a 2018 AA graduate. After his junior year, he realized that he needed a change. “I wasn’t focused at all,” he said. “And, it showed everywhere—at home, school, and on the basketball court.” A change of scenery was needed, and he decided to re-consider the Academy.
The culture shock was immediate. “My parents and I pulled up into the middle of nowhere to a small school in between a cut of woods,” he said. “I told them we must be at the wrong place, but that was where the GPS brought us.”
Even though the experience of moving to live with the Harris family and changing schools seemed daunting, WillJay persevered. “When I left home, my mom and girlfriend cried, which made me sad, but I knew I would always have them by my side,” he said. WillJay also knew how much he would miss his dad, whom he described as “my favorite person.”
He credited his dad with being a positive role model. “He’s taught me how to work and be responsible, to never depend on anyone, and to work harder than everyone else for what I want,” he said.
WillJay also found it difficult to leave his girlfriend, Kyra, who he described as his best friend and “a great person.”
Arriving in Amelia to live with the Harris family, WillJay was apprehensive about living with another family. However, he said the experience has been “amazing.” “They treat me as if I were their own child,” he said, “even if that meant getting the look from Ms. Val if I got a bad quiz grade.” The Harris family has become more than a host family; they are his family, WillJay said.
Arriving at Amelia Academy provided an opportunity for WillJay to change his viewpoint. Joining a student body different from what he was accustomed to felt nearly impossible. “I am not going to like these hillbillies,” he thought when he first arrived. “However, I was wrong.”
He quickly made friends with Tyler Gough and Brent Carwile, despite their differences. He also met Jamal Grant, who has become “like a brother to me.”
WillJay said the friendships he made at the Academy have been “life-changing.” He also credited teachers with “helping us become better people and more responsible.”
As he looks toward graduation next month and the future, WillJay reflected on his life journey that brought him to Amelia. “Sometimes God puts people in your life, and you have no idea why. But, you shouldn’t question it because everything He does is for the best.”
As a student at the Academy, WillJay has played basketball and was captain of the team this past season. WillJay was named All-State this year. He was named Player of the Year for the Virginia Colonial Conference (VCC). WillJay also received All-Conference and All-Tournament recognition.
Attending his Chapel Talk were his parents, LaDonya and William Steger, and his girlfriend Kyra. Also present were Valerie and Gregory Harris and their son Greg, an Academy sophomore.
A second home is how Paul Berry described Amelia Academy in his Chapel Talk, delivered on April 3. This is partly because his mother is the Academy’s librarian and siblings attended the Academy. However, Paul said that the Academy is also where he “developed a strong work ethic and learned how humor is important in school and life.”
The teachers have also made the Academy feel like a second home for Paul. His teachers know him well; many have known him since he was young. “I don’t feel uncomfortable when I ask a question,” he said. “The teachers listen to my opinion.”
Paul began learning the value of hard work at home watching his parents work. He also had chores to complete at home and a job for his neighbor. These experiences led to a summer job at the Academy last year. “I worked hard helping Mr. Williams (the Academy’s custodian) clean the school from top to bottom.”
Paul said that he was glad to have a job and earn money. However, by the end of the summer, he said, “I realized it was not about the money. It was about working hard to make the school look good for next year.”
Beginning at a young age, Paul recognized the value of laughter throughout his life. As a five-year-old, he enjoyed making people laugh by repeating the jokes from shows such as “I Love Lucy,” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” This led to reading joke books and sharing laughter with his family and friends.
More recently, Paul has become known for his in-depth knowledge of movies and film-making. He enjoys comedies, of course, but also watches other genres, including action and thriller movies. “I like to watch the behind-the-scenes programs because the actors talk about the stunts they did and other experiences,” Paul said.
He has also learned that acting is very hard work with multi-faceted requirements of the actors, such as practicing stunts, learning the script, and working well with the director and actors. “I think for the actors this hard work is about entertaining people more than making money,” he said.
As a student at the Academy, Paul has been a member of the audio-visual club and participated in the Association of Virginia Academies (AVA) Forensics competition. He also was a drummer with the Academy’s Pipe and Drum Corp. In his introductory remarks, Rodney L. Taylor, Head of School, described the young man known at the Academy for his helpful and generous attitude. “He is a student that faculty and staff can count on when something needs to be done. He will always volunteer to help with projects and does them well.”
Attending his Chapel Talk were Paul’s parents, Karen and Chip Berry. Mrs. Berry has been a member of the faculty and the librarian for 21 years.
With mixed feelings, high school seniors approach graduation with a sense of nostalgia. In his eleven years as a student at Amelia Academy, senior Wilbert Allen said as much in his Chapel Talk, delivered on March 27. “Before I started my senior year, I had thoughts of “re-classing” because I didn’t feel like leaving yet,” he joked. “But, it’s time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.”
Wilbert said that he has been particularly influenced by three people, and he offered a reflection on their role in his life. Even though there have been a few headmasters over the past eleven years, Wilbert said that none have impacted him as much as Mr. Taylor, the Academy’s current headmaster. Admitting to some reservations about Mr. Taylor at first, Wilbert said everything changed his sophomore year.
“In my sophomore year, he just happened to be my history teacher,” Wilbert said. “I’d have to say that was probably the best class I have taken.” In fact, Wilbert said that Mr. Taylor became someone he would call a friend during that year.
In his elective with Mr. Taylor this year, Wilbert said, “I’ve learned to view things from different perspectives. I’ve also learned how important it is to stay up-to-date and know what’s going on in the world,” he added.
Growing up in a family with three brothers and two sisters meant that Wilbert has never known a dull moment. However, he also said that he wouldn’t have it any other way because they are his family. His parents have had the biggest influence on his life, Wilbert said.
He has spent a great deal of time with his Dad. “Ever since I was old enough to walk, I was always going with my Dad to work, farms, and job sites,” he said. “I quickly learned that my Dad could do just about anything, and I always looked up to him,” Wilbert said.
There was something Wilbert didn’t realize during the good times of hard work spent with his Dad. He was teaching me how to be successful, Wilbert said. “One of my favorite things he has told me is, ‘Son, ain’t nobody going to give you anything in life.’” From this advice, Wilbert said that he has learned that he will have to work hard to be successful.
Having learned the value of hard work, Wilbert said it is also important to have fun with his friends, especially Tyler Gough. Friends since kindergarten, he and Tyler can always be found working in the shop, going fishing and hunting, and having a good time. Wilbert emphasized the importance of making great memories in the good times spent with friends.
All three friends – Mr. Taylor, Tyler, and especially his Dad – have played an important role in Wilbert’s life. “They’ve prepared me for life after I leave here [the Academy],” he said.
During his years at the Academy, Wilbert has been a member of the junior varsity and varsity baseball teams.
Attending Wilbert’s Chapel Talk were his parents Karen and Victor Allen. Also present were his siblings, Wavel (class of 2017) along with Emma, Wendell, Calvin, and Rupert, all of whom are Academy students.
With so many things beyond a person’s control, three things are within our control said senior Mitchell Carey in his Chapel Talk, delivered on March 20. The first two – attitude and effort – came from Jason Morris in Mitchell’s Bible class. The third – enthusiasm – was added by Mitchell himself. These aspects of life were the subject of his speech.
Mitchell shared several moments in which he learned the value of character-building experiences. During his junior year, he earned a D grade on his first Chemistry test. “This initial grade crushed my resolve, and I felt like a failure,” he said. In fact, that one low grade among many other good grades influenced his entire attitude during his junior year.
“Interestingly, getting a D on that first test turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Mitchell said. He changed his method of studying and received a B on the next test and, eventually, an A in the course. He learned that good outcomes may come from negative moments in life.
Having a good attitude can also be the product of helping others and cultivating gratitude. Mitchell ran for student-body president at his school last year. He and his opponent, “a very determined girl,” were stunned when her sister harassed one of Mitchell’s supporters. With the drama averted by the sister’s apology, Mitchell won a fair race. “I was humbled and grateful to have been elected to the position.” Fulfilling a campaign promise, Mitchell started a snack table for the students to enjoy since they didn’t have vending machines.
Mitchell learned in his courses that effort produces results. “It’s simple yet proven,” he said. “Studying and preparing are key components to receiving good grades.”
In other pursuits outside of school, Mitchell has also learned the benefit of effort. Three years ago, he began taking ukulele lessons. “Learning to play the ukulele was hard at first but, with practice, I began to play songs I knew,” he said. One of those was the Star Wars theme. “Because I’m a huge Star Wars fan, I put an immense amount of effort in order to learn the tune,” he said.
Mitchell’s efforts also paid off, literally, when he began taking care of his neighbor’s animals while they were on vacation. He was rewarded when they were impressed with his effort. For the past five years, Mitchell has cared for their animals. “I am proud to be known as a trustworthy worker,” he said.
Enthusiasm is the key component in maintaining a good attitude and putting forth effort, according to Mitchell. Metaphorically, it is the spark that lights the oven of attitude and effort, he said.
Mitchell learned this on the job as a volunteer at Sailor’s Creek Battlefield, beginning in the summer of 2017. “At the time I faked enthusiasm [for the Civil War battle]. However, as I learned about the stories and battles, my faked enthusiasm became real,” he said. In fact, his new-found enthusiasm created a more positive work experience.
Mitchell acknowledged that controlling attitude, effort, and enthusiasm is a “journey not a destination.” Nevertheless, the journey is worthwhile despite inevitable mistakes and setback, he said. He encouraged his fellow students to pursue their own journey toward success.
Attending his Chapel Talk were his parents, Patti and Sam Carey, along with his grandparents, Betty and Don Bowman, and cousin, Gloria Kuykendall. Also present were neighbors Susan and Ronnie Cole. Other guests included Amelia Academy’s former headmaster, James D. Grizzard, and Mitchell’s former teachers, Laura Birdsong, Walter Duncan, LeeAnn Arnett, Wanda Boyles, and Robin Settle.
Amelia Academy seniors are beginning the countdown to graduation on May 23. It was therefore an appropriate time for Amari Hicks to speak about the inevitability of change in her Chapel Talk, delivered on March 13.
“Change is not necessarily a good thing; nor is it a bad thing,” she said. “Change is simply a thing that happens to each of us during certain times in our lives.”
Amari offered several examples of change that many teens experience, such as evolving choices in fashion, music, and sports teams. Other intentional changes may lead to becoming a better person or achieving goals, she said.
Since arriving at the Academy in the second grade, Amari has emerged from the admittedly shy newcomer. “I didn’t really talk to anyone except my teachers and maybe two other classmates,” she said. During that first year, she eventually got to know the rest of her class and came out of her “comfort zone.” She said that this was an example of a good change. “It was a wonderful decision,” she said.
All went well until Middle School when Amari said she began to retreat again. “It was a crazy time full of change . . . the lovely time of hitting puberty,” Amari said. However, just as she did in Lower School, Amari persevered and pursued new adventures, including playing volleyball.
She also decided to participate in Forensics, an annual public speaking competition of the Association of Virginia Academies (AVA). This experience led to an interest in “reading for fun” and creative writing.
Once again, in Upper School, Amari continued to step out of her comfort zone and pursue new opportunities. She joined the local chapter of Young Life, a positive experience that helped her confidence. “I made lots of new friends who never fail to make me smile,” she said.
Despite the difficult of overcoming fear, Amari said she is grateful for the changes she has made. “Don’t be afraid to do it,” she told her audience. “It could possibly make your life much better.”
In her closing, Amari quoted the Dalai Lama, “Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.”
Attending her Chapel Talk were her parents Juliane and Boyce Hicks, along with her sister Meagan. Also present were her grandparents, Viola and James Booker, and her grandmother, Ann Hicks. Other special guests included her aunts, Lofonda Booker, Jennifer Cooper, and Lowonda Craft, along with her cousin, Chelsey Poe.