Friday, June 1, 2018

Stratford High Twins Too Tough for Harvey

It seems everyone has a Harvey story. Twins Amanda and Meredith Williams, who look nothing alike, have one. Meredith is the one with brown, curly hair. Amanda’s is straight and blond.

There are other differences. They have different dreams, and this fall will head to different parts of the country. Meredith will pursue an electrical engineering degree at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and Amanda will major in theatre at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

There are also similarities. Both are class salutatorians. They’re conscientious and loving daughters and friends. Both are energetic and vivacious. They’re each other’s biggest fan.

And they both say Hurricane Harvey shaped their senior year. Their home was one of the first to flood.

On the night the rain started, Amanda went out with friends in spite of weather reports and her parents’ fear she would get stranded. She was sure that wouldn’t happen – until it did. She camped out at a Whataburger until her parents rescued her, then she went to bed thinking the worst was over.

Little did the sisters know, the worst – and the best – was yet to come.

At 5 a.m., the family started moving everything upstairs. By 10 a.m., there was a foot of water in the house. A neighbor rowed the family to the front of the neighborhood with their four dogs, phones and a few T-shirts.

The family of one of Amanda’s theatre friends, Abby, hosted the Williams family for a week. “The Haralsons were wonderful and welcoming,” Amanda says.

The Williams family moved into a townhouse for the foreseeable future. The girls give their parents, Phillip and Margie, credit for making the ordeal an adventure. They would eventually sell their home and buy another flooded house, which they are now remodeling.

The girls spent their time applying to colleges.

A look at the pre-Harvey sisters: They are active school and church volunteers. Both are talented. They have participated in Stratford’s choir and have received recognition at the regional level. (This year, Meredith sings at the state level.) Both are talented basketball players. Meredith competes year-round on an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team. She’s the only girl on the team – and she’s 5’2”! A thespian all four years of high school, Amanda gave up basketball her senior year to concentrate on theatre and would play the lead in two of her three senior productions.

There are many more accomplishments, but this story is about Harvey.

Though they were scared and out of their element, thinking of college helped them survive.

“Our parents did a good job of keeping us focused on the future,” Meredith says. “Dad always says, ‘Focus on the task at hand.’ It works.”

Harvey taught them a lot.

Meredith: “When life throws obstacles, you have two choices. You can whine and cry, or you can be productive. Do what makes the situation better. That’s how our parents approached it. My job was to get good grades and talk to college coaches.”

Amanda: “Be kind. Be kinder than you have to be. Our neighbor who canoed us out – his house had flooded too, but he was smiling and helping us.

“Senior year is stressful, and in high school, stress brings on drama – especially when the year begins with a hurricane. Kindness outlives any other attitude. My friends have been so kind to me. The only thing I can do is to give that kindness to other people.”

“Harvey shaped me as a person,” Meredith says. “I wouldn’t be as grateful. We don’t know what we have until we lose it. I have more drive now. I am determined to help my parents, whether it’s by getting scholarships or walking the dogs.”

“It prepared me to take on more experiences and to handle situations gracefully,” Amanda continues.

Their focus on college paid off. Amanda will pursue acting in the city known for it. She felt at home when she visited Loyola Marymount, where she will have a view of the ocean on one side and the Hollywood sign on the other. Best of all, the students were welcoming. Meredith was recruited to play basketball at Illinois Institute of Technology. Both received generous merit and academic scholarship packages.

They agree it will be hard to leave Stratford behind.

Amanda says, “This is where I transitioned from basketball to theatre. I found myself here. I owe Stratford a lot for shaping me. I can’t imagine life without these friends and this environment, but Stratford has prepared me for good things ahead.”

It will be hard to leave each other. “In high school, we found different passions,” she continues. “No one has seen me grow up like Meredith has.”

Meredith says, “Twins are different than siblings. We are so different, but at the core, we’re so similar.”

Almost at once, they say, “I’m so proud of her,” and move on quickly before the tears begin.

What advice would they offer their freshman selves? Meredith says, “Be grateful for everything, all life’s little blessings.”

And from Amanda: “Life is so much bigger than high school. Enjoy each moment. There will be life after this.”

So there, Harvey!


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