Like Family: Trinity graduates united by memories

Published 12:14 am Sunday, May 20, 2018

NATCHEZ — Over the past five decades, Trinity Episcopal Day School has graduated dozens of classes containing hundreds of students — but all are part of one big family.

From start to finish, that word — “family” — has been used to describe the atmosphere at Trinity.

In January, the school announced it would close permanently after this school year because of dwindling enrollment and a lack of necessary support to keep the school afloat.

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From 1972 graduate Trippy Shields to the valedictorian for this year’s last-ever group of seniors, Anna Rodriguez, and all those who came in between, the school’s unity is a common boast among alumni.

As part of Trinity’s second graduating class, Shields recalled how the school prepared him and his approximately 25 classmates for their next step, even in just a short time of existence.

“The education was excellent,” Shields said. “It really prepared my classmates and me … for bigger things; for college; university life.”

But the close relationships between not just students, but everyone at the school set it apart from other environments, he said.

“We knew the teacher’s intimately … We were chums with the janitorial staff,” Shields said. “It was just a very special setting.”

And those ties would only strengthen as the years went on and classmates were able to journey along with each other from kindergarten through high school.

For Sarah Gray Miller, who rounded out the graduating classes of the 1980s, that was exactly the case with her fellow classmates.

“There are some of us who went to school together from age 4 to age 18, and I am still friends with almost all my friends from nursery school, kindergarten, elementary and beyond,” Miller said.

That unbreakable bond lasted throughout her whole time at Trinity, where she said the small scale of the school helped to prevent cliques, such as you might see at most schools.

“You couldn’t put on airs, because everyone knew what you did when you were 4, 5, 6, 7 (years old),” Miller said. “I think that gave me a sense of security.”

And even today, the memories of walking the halls and sitting in classrooms are fresh, she said.

The same goes for Stratton Hall, a 1990 Trinity graduate who went through the ranks of the school from pre-K through high school.

“I can name probably every teacher that I had at Trinity,” Hall said. “I still know my classmates’ birthdays. Before Facebook, I could tell you what month.

“So it truly was an extension of my immediate family. I considered those people my family members.”

The beauty of having a small, tight-knit school came in developing those types of interpersonal relationships with students and teachers alike, Hall said. That kind of attention helped cultivate lifelong friendships, but not without also demanding excellence along the way.

“The school made you want to be a better person,” Hall said. “If you didn’t make the grades, you were not going to play basketball … you were not going to be a cheerleader. Academics were everything at that school.”

In fact, she remembers how her older brother, a 1984 graduate, competed heavily not in sports, but with their grades. Hall recalled that as an example of how the school encouraged its students to better themselves.

Up until this point, plenty of outstanding students passed through Trinity’s halls. But the school took a big step forward when 2002 graduate Chad Ridley and his younger brother, current NFL player Stevan Ridley arrived at Trinity in the 1990s.

“We broke the color barrier,” Chad Ridley said. “We were the first black students to go there.”

While his younger brother took to Trinity right away, the elder Ridley said he needed a few weeks to adjust to get over his preconceived notions of what he might encounter being the only black student in his class.

But then, “family” happened.

“I went out there expecting to encounter some bullying and racism, and it was never the case,” he said. “It was just a close-knit school.”

Despite sports taking Chad Ridley all over the nation and introducing him to all sorts of different people, he said the bond with his Trinity friends has outlasted the relationships that came afterward.

“We stick together,” he said.

He encouraged the seniors of this year’s final graduating class to do the same.

“Just don’t forget (each other),” he said. “Stay close. They’ll be there — your friends will be there.”

One of those very seniors who will be tasked with maintaining that unity is Trinity’s 2018 valedictorian, Rodriguez.

“I’ve been at Trinity since I was in kindergarten,” she said. “It’s really the only place I’ve ever known.”

Faced with the emotions that any senior would face, only tenfold considering the unique circumstances, Rodriguez said she and her classmates have conflicting feelings of excitement of getting out to experience new parts of life, while at the same time …

“I wish these final days would last forever,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the school taught her how to be a better friend and how to have compassion for others, which she said is the cornerstone of an Episcopal education.

Although the Trinity senior does not know where she will end up once she finishes her schooling at Tulane University in New Orleans, she fully appreciates what has gotten her to where she is at today and she wants her fellow classmates to know one thing:

“I would like to thank them for all the years I had with them, with everyone, and to let them know this isn’t the end,” Rodriguez said. “We can still take what we learned from Episcopal education and from Trinity … how to care for others and how to apply that for the rest of our lives, and we should.”