Max Searcy is a 2012 Danville High School graduate and currently the dance and drama teacher at Edna L. Toliver Intermediate School and head forensics coach at Danville High School. He said right now, he’s excited for rehearsal to start for the fifth grade production of Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr., which will be showing on May 20 at both the Toliver theater and Gravely Hall Performing Arts Center. Searcy spoke about his Danville Schools journey, particularly the arts opportunities that paved the way for where he is now.
Tell us about your Danville Schools journey. What school(s) did you attend, and what’s a highlight that stands out to you?
I’ve kind of gone all over the state to different schools.
I dealt with some depression early in high school and didn’t really fit in anywhere, didn’t really have any friends. And then my sophomore year, my parents actually found out about the forensics team and the theater program at Danville, and those two things were a really big draw for me because I’ve always been into theater.
After moving to Danville, I kind of just immediately found my footing my sophomore year, found a group of kids in AP classes that kind of had the same interests as me, and jumped both feet right into taking drama and journalism classes. That kind of catapulted me into competing in the forensics team and going to Governor’s School for the Arts my sophomore year. All of that has completely changed my life. I mean, the person I was prior to coming to Danville Schools is completely different from who I am now.
What aspects of your Danville Schools education helped mold you into the person you are today?
I would say that the main part that really shaped who I am is the fact that I am still here as a person. I mean, like I was saying, my freshman year I was not in a good place mentally. I missed a lot of school. I avoided going to school because I didn’t have those opportunities to really show my authentic self in any way, whereas at Danville, it felt like everything that I did, especially with arts opportunities — I mean, we had Drama I and Drama II class, a dedicated speech class was a really big deal — and it got me out of my isolation and unwillingness to interact and talk with other people.
I’d always been really outgoing and magnanimous and talkative in elementary school and middle school, but later that stopped. Then, when I came to Danville, those speech classes and then even more so the drama classes really gave me the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do in school, which I think a lot of students don’t get because they don’t want to be at school at all. They don’t really find that thing that is “them,” that they would be doing even if they weren’t here in the building. But for me, drama and speech were 100% that.
When you think back on your Danville Schools experience, are there specific instances or relationships that stand out to you as having had a significant impact on your success since graduating?
I had a lot of really excellent classroom teachers at Danville High School. Right now I teach with Lyndsey Carpenter, and her husband Aaron was my math teacher in high school, and so I remember spending a lot of time in his class. He was very patient with a lot of us. We had an Intersession course that was really fun, where he played a bunch of TED talks and he discussed Western philosophy, and that was really great because it’s difficult to talk to high schoolers about that kind of thing. So, just the patience that he showed was phenomenal.
Also, Steve Meadows as my speech and drama teacher was instrumental and really important at getting me to show up, actually commit to things, and really have a team spirit for the forensics team and for drama productions. He only directed us in like, one of the shows, but I think his presence in that classroom every day really caused me to want to be on the stage outside of the classroom.
Jane Dewey also — still having her as a mentor is a dream come true. She was really instrumental in getting me into the Governor's School for the Arts. She did a lot of work with me and my cohorts who ended up going, and her son Dylan Crow actually went with me, so we played off of each other a lot, Dylan and I.
I distinctly remember also, the former principal, who was my history teacher, who did one of the most interesting assignments in an AP course that I’ve ever had. He asked us to create something that showed the shape of history. And I chose a spider web and portrayed all the events webbed together.
As a product of Danville Schools, what advice would you give to a parent who was choosing an education path for their child?
I would say you don’t have to make decisions about what you want to do immediately in the third or fourth grade, but you do need to make commitments and follow through with them. So it’s important to try out for things you want to do in school, because this is the time to see who you are and who you want to be. So I think it’s important to pick something, commit to it, follow through for a season or a school year and really put everything you have into it, whether that’s theater or choir or baseball or soccer — whatever you want to do — and then really commit to that on top of academics.
And then if it’s not the perfect fit for you, then move on to something else and try that out too. For lack of a better term, a liberal arts education that you can get at Danville Schools is a really good foundation for figuring out what kind of person you want to be, what kind of career you want to go into, whether you want to pursue college or not.
All of that is something you can get started on as soon as you get your kids into school or if you are a student, as soon as you start getting that kind of agency in choosing classes and things like that in middle school. So, make those choices, stick with them, and then if you need to change your mind, don’t be afraid to change your mind and try something else.
As a product of Danville Schools, what drives you to give back to your local school and/or district?
It is 100% the moment where you see a student “get it,” that lightbulb moment where they’re like “I love this, and I really want to be doing this.” We actually had a student over the weekend at the state forensics tournament who was talking about how this year, they’ve become so much more of a leader, and they’ve actually spoken in front of a large group of people at the Capitol.
They said they never would have been able to get up to first of all, organize the things they did in order to get there, and then to speak in front of all those people, if they hadn’t had the forensics team experience, the speech and debate experience. Hearing that made everything we’ve done all year feel very much worthwhile.
And that moment happens as a teacher in a classroom all the time. I see a kid who’s enjoying themselves — their face lights up when we’re doing a theater exercise or they go up onstage and share a monologue. That is what I’m in it for, and that kind of feeling that I see in them inspires me to want to do more, to give more, to be more active and involved.
This piece is part of an ongoing series telling the stories of our Danville Alumni! We share a new alumni story once a month, and we want YOUR story. If you or someone you know is a Danville graduate and an excellent representative of the Danville community and the idea of #SuccessForALL, whether they live in Danville or not, please fill out the form linked below. You can also show your Danville Alumni pride on social media with the hashtag #DanvilleAlumniStories
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