For 14 years, Taelor Williams' extended family has been her classmates and teachers first at Aiken Prep and then Mead Hall Episcopal School.
Friday, after more than 2,500 days of classes, schoolwork, lessons learned and friendships made, she began the process of saying goodbye and looking forward to her future for the first time at a new school.
Williams and her six Mead Hall classmates in the class of 2020 celebrated the end of their senior year not with the traditional commencement walk but with a drive-by Graduation Parade on Friday morning.
Wearing their caps and gowns, the seniors, standing safely apart and joined by their families, lined the drive by the soccer field as friends and supporters drove slowly by, handing out graduation gifts, shaking pom poms, waving American flags, blowing bubbles and congratulating the graduates – all to the soundtrack of "Celebrate," by Kool & the Gang.
Williams started 4K at Aiken Preparatory School and continued at Mead Hall when the two downtown schools merged in 2012 when she was in the fourth grade going to fifth.
“It's been phenomenal,” said Williams, who joined Student Council in 11th grade and was voted senior class president this school year. “All my Aiken Prep memories, they're in my heart forever.”
While at Mead Hall, Williams received the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution 2019 Good Citizen of Henry Middleton Chapter, Aiken, South Carolina, award for having demonstrated “the Qualities of Dependability, Service, Leadership and Patriotism.” She also received a certificate of academic achievement from Augusta State University in 2019 for outstanding performance at Mead Hall Episcopal School.
Williams plans to major in communications at Claflin University in Orangeburg in the fall but, after 14 years, will miss Mead Hall.
“I'm going to miss the family atmosphere,” she said. “I'll be on a whole new campus. It's going to be very, very different, but I'm excited.”
Williams offered a farewell message for her classmates.
“I love them all – forever,” she said.
Williams' father, George Williams Jr., said “it's a good thing to see all the kids back together” at the parade.
“I'm very proud of this moment and especially proud of my daughter for pursuing her dream and going to college,” Williams' father said. “I think she's the only African-American woman to achieve 14 years at this school.”
Williams' mother is Terrell Alford.
Williams' classmates and the universities they will attend in the fall are Colette Kearney, Virginia Wesleyan; Logan Zollinger, University of South Carolina; Megan Callahan, USC Aiken; Mac Massie, salutatorian, Wofford College; Savannah Stewart, Spartanburg Methodist; and Ashlin Goergen, valedictorian, Clemson University.
Friday's graduation parade was just the first celebration for Mead Hall's class of 2020. The school will hold a traditional commencement ceremony Aug. 1.
Faced with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, this year's seniors have had to learn to “change the tire while the car is moving,” said Denarvise Thornton, dean of Student Affairs, who helped coordinate the parade.
“These seniors, in their resiliency, have continued to progress and learn,” he said. “They have been committed and maintained their senior obligations. Our hats are off to them.”
The Rev. Dr. Frank Sawyer, head of school, said he wanted to end the school year with a celebration because “it's been really difficult being a senior during the pandemic.”
“God bless them,” Sawyer said. “They're a great group of young men and women, and I'm wishing them all the best for their futures. I'm proud of them as they go off, especially because they had to finish the year during such a challenging academic time. As as school, we're praying for the health and good of everyone in our community and hoping for a better year next year.”