When we interviewed Tanner for our College Exploration and Engagement Program in the spring of his freshman year, he told us about his buoys. How he chose the bright green and white because the colors were clear and bold in the water. How the horizontal designs with these colors had already been claimed, so he shifted to a distinctive vertical stripe. How this design took him a long time and demanded precision as he taped and painted each of several stripes again and again on dozens of buoys. And how ultimately, it was all worth it, because he had worked hard, and was proud that to each buoy he had brought his best.
Tanner died in a car accident with two friends in early February. He was a junior at Sumner Memorial High School in Sullivan. In the days following, connecting with students in our program, and teachers and staff who knew Tanner well, I didn’t hear much about the Honor Roll scholar he was, or the skilled dedication he brought to baseball and fishing, though all of this was true.
I didn’t say much about how Tanner hoped to study structural engineering or landscape architecture while continuing to fish, or that he would have been an outstanding applicant for the full college scholarship we are launching this spring, though this was true also.
What I heard most — and felt — amid intertwined grief and gratitude was that Tanner was so kind. That he would have done anything for anyone — and did. That he looked out for his friends when they struggled, and he loved his parents and extended family with unshakable loyalty. That he was the first to ask if you needed a hand, and the last to ever complain or cut a corner or make excuses. Even when worried, he persisted.
On a recent rainy day, after a scholarship workshop the previous night that Tanner and his parents would have joined, I visited their home. I wanted Tanner’s parents, Mike and Tracy, to have several photographs from our program including one I framed of Tanner and a friend looking out across Frenchman Bay. I wanted them to have an art piece from that same summer retreat — a silhouetted portrait Tanner had filled with words that mattered to him.
We also shared some quiet and some stories. I told Mike and Tracy how much I had learned about Tanner from what he said two years back about his buoys. They listened. Then Mike disappeared for a minute. He returned with one of the buoys — the green and white just as Tanner had described. We talked a bit more and as I got ready to leave, Tanner’s parents gave the buoy to me.
What an extraordinary kindness. What an extraordinary gift. And what a reminder. We load our boats and head out with hope toward dawn. How can we know if our prep the days before will be enough? Tanner’s prep was focus and tape and patience. As was unquestionably true across his seventeen years, may we too step back at the end of each day to see clearly and boldly that we have given our best.
–– Christina S. Griffith, Director, Davis Maine Scholarship