Editor’s note: With graduation season upon us, the South Jetty recently contacted three past Port Aransas High School valedictorians to see what they’ve been up to since their days at PAHS.
For Melanie Mayer, it was teaching, coaching and consulting work that lay ahead after graduating as valedictorian of Port Aransas High School in 1983.
Jill Thompson Parris, who was the PAHS valedictorian in 1995, now works in corporate America.
The 2009 valedictorian, David Thrasher, has earned a master’s degree in theology and is running a business that helps churches and non-profit organizations grow.
All three say they have benefited a great deal from their days attending Port Aransas schools.
Parris said being enrolled in a small school district gave her a lot of opportunities.
“I got to participate in everything – basketball, band, tennis, cross-country, one-act play, UIL and more,” she said. “That translates into trying new things. I wasn’t afraid to try new things in college, and now I have versatility in a large corporate setting because I can do different jobs. I’m not a one-trick pony.”
After graduating from PAHS, Mayer attended Howard Payne University in Brownwood, where she earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in English and physical education.
At the university, she was a three-time all-American basketball player, all-academic player in the Lone Star Conference and the third woman ever to be inducted into the HPU Sports Hall of Fame.
She later earned a master’s degree in curriculum instruction with an emphasis in English education at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Mayer went on to teach English for 29 years at PAHS before retiring. She was the high school basketball coach for 15 years and concurrently taught night classes in English at Del Mar.
Today, Mayer is a full-time independent education consultant and motivational speaker. She holds teaching and leadership workshops at schools across Texas.
She has written two books about teaching. They are “Miles to Go: What I Learned While I was Teaching” and “Two Roads Diverged and I Took Both: Meaningful Writing Instruction in an Age of Testing.”
After the books were published, she said, she was called to speak at education service centers across Texas. Principals from different school districts saw her and invited her to conduct training in their districts.
“It was kind of an accident that the consulting and training came about,” she said. “It was out of my comfort zone, because I’m an introvert. It was the best thing that happened to me.”
She said her consulting business took off. In fact, now working full-time at her consulting business, she will speak to 30 different school districts and organizations this summer and is now moving into the field of leadership training in the corporate world.
“That is new for me, and I’m enjoying life,” she said.
Every fall, Mayer hosts a “Teach Rhymes with Beach” conference in Port Aransas. Topics include reading instruction, step-by-step writing instruction and classroom management.
About her education at PAISD, Mayer said local schools had teachers who knew their students well, challenged them academically and encouraged each student to be their own person.
Mayer said she didn’t strive to be valedictorian. It just happened.
“My parents stressed education,” she said. “I was intrinsically motivated to do well, to be the best I could be.”
Mayer started a PAHS scholarship in memory of her parents, Jean and Wally Mayer.
After graduating from PAHS, Parris attended the University of Texas at Austin and received a bachelor’s degree in nutrition. She worked in public health for a couple of years at the Williamson County and Cities Health District as the WIC (Women, Infant and Children Supplemental Nutrition) Program director.
She then earned a master’s in business administration in 2004 at UT.
Today, Parris lives in the town of Argyle, near Dallas. She works for works at CITI, a global financial services corporation that recruited her out of business school.
Her title is managing director of customer experience and process integration for personal banking and wealth management fraud prevention.
She and her husband, Joe, have three sons: Jeff, 21; Hunter, 20; and Grant, 16.
At PAISD, Parris played on the girls’ basketball team, when Mayer was coach.
“The discipline, accountability and teamwork that Mayer embraced prepared me for the future,” she said. “I learned to set goals and to work hard to achieve and get it.”
Parris’s older brother, Ethan, was the PAHS valedictorian in 1992.
“Anything Ethan did, I had to do better, just a little sister trying to outdo a big brother,” she said.
Parris is the daughter of Jane and John Thompson of Port Aransas. Now retired, Jane was a teacher and principal at H.G. Olsen Elementary School
After graduating from PAHS in 2009, Thrasher attended Moody Baptist Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He received an undergraduate degree in Bible and youth ministry.
He then returned to Port Aransas, where he worked as an interim youth and worship minister at First Baptist Church.
Thrasher later earned a master’s degree in theology at the Dallas Theological Seminary.
He and his wife, Michele, decided to start a faith-based team-building business. He also got a job as a private client representative at Chase Bank.
The couple’s business is called Not Just Games. The company has offered team-building services primarily for churches and nonprofits but also has expanded to work in corporate and school events.
“Our goal is to give the consulting business our full focus,” Thrasher said. “We are finally to the point where we can be fully sustained by our business. We want to make a difference in people’s lives and help them grow.”
The couple has a son, “Zeph,” who is 16 months old.
Thrasher said that PAISD helped him tremendously.
“It had the personal touch and smaller class size that helped me thrive and grow,” he said. “At PAISD, I learned how to be the best I can be.”
Thrasher’s parents are Barbara and Don Thrasher of Port Aransas.