Calkins: The class of 2020, and a lost senior spring

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 26, 2020 10:08 AM CT | Published: March 22, 2020 8:06 PM CT
Geoff Calkins
Daily Memphian

Geoff Calkins

Geoff Calkins has been chronicling Memphis and Memphis sports for more than two decades. He is host of "The Geoff Calkins Show" from 9-11 a.m. M-F on 92.9 FM. Calkins has been named the best sports columnist in the country five times by the Associated Press sports editors, but still figures his best columns are about the people who make Memphis what it is.

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Peter, my youngest, stepped to the pulpit at Idlewild Presbyterian Church.

He was nervous, I could tell, as I watched him on my laptop from my living room.

Peter was one of three high school seniors — Helen Gillespie and Caroline Seamons were the others — invited to give short sermons this Sunday. It’s something Idlewild has been doing for as long as I can recall. Peter started working on his sermon two weeks ago. But then the world flipped upside down. Idlewild started live-stream-only services last Sunday. Anne Apple — the minister at Idlewild — asked the kids to tape their sermons on their phones and send them in. The church would play the videos during the service.

The kids objected. They didn’t think it would be as personal — or as meaningful — if they weren’t standing at the pulpit. Helen Gillespie contacted Rev. Apple to ask if they could come up with another plan.

Which is how it came to be that I turned on the Idlewild live stream Sunday to see the three seniors sitting behind the pulpit, sitting 6 feet apart, preparing to give their sermons to an empty sanctuary.

The text?

Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .”



The sweetness of senior spring

Do you remember the spring of your senior year in high school?

How could any of us forget?

“I remember riding around with my girlfriends in a convertible singing ‘Friday I’m in love,’ ” wrote Sara Tinkler, after I posed this question on social media. “And almost getting kicked out of graduation for wearing the wrong color shoes.”

“Everything felt tailored to us,” wrote Stephanie Tutor Perez. “Prom, Senior Skip Day, Senior Luncheon, getting the yearbooks signed for the first time.”

“I would hate to have missed the moment when the last member of my class was handed his diploma,” wrote Bryan Simmons. “I was caught off guard by my own tears. I was sobbing suddenly realizing that what were four magical years for me were over.”

I remember the feeling as much as the moments, a mix of triumph and freedom and celebration — and wistfulness.

It is the last time to be in the school musical. The last time to walk through the school doors. The last time to put out the school newspaper. The last time to sit at the same spot at the same table at lunch.

It is the last time you will go to school every day with friends who have known you as long as you have known yourself.

They knew you before you knew how to drive — and after.

They knew you before your parents divorced — and after.

They knew you before you knew how to kiss someone — and after.

And because of the range of activities in high school, your friends knew you in a way that nobody will ever know you again. They knew you as a lousy athlete, a mediocre saxophone player and a whiz at math. They knew you as a first-rate debater, a terrible driver (took three times to pass the road test) and the most likely kid to fall asleep in social studies class.

“I remember standing in the graduation line in purple and white robes and realizing all of these people will never be in the same place at the same time ever again,” wrote Charlotte Fleming, who was one of my classmates in high school.

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I think most of us remember that exact same thing.

But the members of the Class of 2020 may have none of those memories. The last time they will ever gather in the same place at the same time may have already passed. They may not go back to school again. They may not walk across a stage and try not to smile when their parents holler and carry on. They may not fling their caps in their air when graduation is over, and hug every friend they can track down to hug.

This is not the worst sadness unfolding in the world at this moment, of course. But it’s an aching sort of sadness, just the same, and a permanent one. And it’s OK to acknowledge that sadness, among all the other sadnesses. Indeed, it’s important to let the seniors — and the families of those seniors — know they are allowed to be sad. Their loss is not invalidated because people in Italy or down the street have lost more. It is still an undeniable loss.

Which brings me back to Idlewild Presbyterian Church, and Peter, and me watching on the laptop from my couch. Helen Gillespie and Caroline Seamons went first. They were thoughtful and eloquent and by the time Peter spoke, I was already near tears. Then it was Peter’s turn. To speak to an empty sanctuary. I was nervous for him. This is what he said:

Two weeks ago, when I first started working on this sermon, my life looked a lot different.

I was certain I had three months left in high school.

I was certain I would go to one last prom.

I was certain I would join the other seniors at Idlewild on April 5 for the blessing of the graduates.

I was certain I would walk across the stage at Lausanne’s graduation.

I was certain I would work for Kelly English this summer — he had already hired me — before I headed off to college in the fall.

Now, I am certain of none of that. I don’t expect to go to class in high school ever again, I don’t expect we will gather for the blessing of the graduates or for a high school graduation. I’m not even sure Duke will be open to receive students in the fall.

I saw a tweet that I think sums up a lot of my feelings right now. It said, “To be honest, I didn’t plan on giving up quite this much for Lent.”

It’s within this context that we read the 23rd Psalm. At one point it reads, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” and I’m going to be honest I thought that was pretty odd. Who would prepare a table in the presence of enemies? But I think that’s really the point. There will always be enemies, there will always be dangers, and prejudices, and diseases, and reasons to fear. But God nevertheless prepares a table for us. In the presence of enemies, he isn’t hoarding toilet paper, he is bountiful and calm.

But it’s the next few lines that really hit home for me.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”

“Surely,” it says.

Right now, nothing feels sure for high school seniors. In fact, nothing feels sure for any of us. We don’t know when life will get back to normal, or what normal will look like when we get back to it.

But surely, God’s goodness and love will follow us. Surely, we will dwell in the house of the Lord. That’s the promise that has sustained so many people in times of trial. That’s the promise that can sustain us again today.

And sustained by that promise, maybe we can prepare tables for others around us, maybe we can share that goodness and love with people who are struggling even more than we are in these difficult times.

This is not how we expected to conclude our high school careers at Idlewild — speaking to a virtual congregation assembled on live stream. But surely, we will get through this with the promise of God’s love. And surely, that love will sustain us until we are gathered in one place again.”

Now, I do not know what the future holds for Peter or for any of us. I do not know when school — or normal life — will resume. But while I mourn for all they are missing, I know the high school Class of 2020 is being shaped by these days in important and lasting ways.

I expect great things.


coronavirus COVID-19 Geoff Calkins Idlewild Presbyterian Church

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