Junior Spencer Davis walked into his house to see his mom already home. He knew. His dad, who had been fighting stage four melanoma, a skin cancer, since 2003 had died just two weeks into his freshman year.
Spencer’s dad always had a trip up his sleeve. Jim Davis took his son on trips to London, Rome, Paris, San Diego and Nashville, to name a few. Until his dad’s death, those trips had been a big part of Spencer’s life.
His dad was his “only friend” in middle school and after his passing Spencer made it a priority to make new ones. Spencer describes his pre-high school self as “not very sociable,” but now takes a different approach to life.
“I always try to act like everyone I meet is already a pretty good friend of mine,” Spencer said. “And so hopefully with time that becomes more than an act and we end up being good friends.”
Initially Spencer’s interest in computers caused him to try out for the robotics team freshman year.
“That was kind of my weeknights,” Spencer said. “I wasn’t an incredible member of the team, so I just kind of sat around and talked with people. It was still fun.”
During the winter, some of his robotics friends began inviting him to hang out with them. One of their frequent hangouts was the abandoned Metcalf South mall. On one visit they stumbled upon a police interrogation room, which consisted of a single chair and a single light bulb. A few visits later they were run into by what they thought was a SWAT team exercise. The group then transitioned to other hangout spots.
Finding new things to do is something Spencer prides himself on, though he said his dad was better at it because of his job as a reporter with the Business Journal. Spencer remembers one night when he and his friends decided to take an impromptu trip to Lawrence.
“We get to Lawrence and we park in the place that I usually park and right next door there’s an art show going on,” Spencer said. “So we… stayed at that for a while and then just walked around the city and it was really not planned, but I’m glad we found it.”
But after seeing the winter play “Woyzeck” that February he decided to try out for a Frequent Friday. Spencer thought about trying out for Alec Hynes’ production. Hynes had been the lead in “Woyzeck” and Spencer anticipated a packed audition. Instead of risking failure in his first theater experience, Spencer decided to wait and try out for the last Frequent Friday of the year, “The American Dream” directed by Griffin MacDonald.
The tryout involved giving cold reads of the script. Most people only went up to the stage once or twice, but Spencer volunteered four times and stayed after to read more. He’s still not sure if it was his acting ability or simply his enthusiasm, but he got the part nonetheless.
Junior Emily Donovan, a fellow “American Dream” cast member and a friend of Spencer’s, called the Frequent Friday a “hot mess.” She said the director, MacDonald, wasn’t too concerned with the quality of the performance and so much of that burden fell to the actors.
“We had to really work together to pull the show together,” Donovan said. “And in doing so I feel like, as a whole cast, we became really comfortable with each other.”
Spencer had found theater.
After his father died Spencer tried his best to live normally. He only told a few teachers why he missed their class when he went to the funeral and it was five months before he told a friend.
In the months leading up to his death, Spencer’s dad stayed with Spencer’s aunt and uncle in Berkeley, Calif. Medicine was beginning to have little to no effect.
Spencer believes not seeing his dad in the final stages of his cancer made his death less difficult. During his time away, Spencer and his dad would video chat nearly every night. His dad never lied about what was going on with his treatment, he said.
“It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t nice, but it definitely wasn’t as difficult as it could have been,” Spencer said. “I was prepared for it as much as I [could] be.”
The summer after his seventh grade year, Spencer and his dad visited his grandmother in Lake Placid, NY. His dad’s cancer had been in remission for three years after intense chemotherapy. They visited his dad’s college, Union College in Schenectady, NY, and in the library Spencer remembers the first time he ever saw his dad be emotional about his cancer.
“He just kind of remarked on whatever time we had was never enough,” Spencer said.
Another time Spencer remembers with his father was after a Bruce Springsteen concert the two went to together. He remembers talking to his dad about how they finally had music they both could appreciate. But something else his dad said has stuck in his mind even more.
“He talked to me about how important it was to find heroes,” Spencer said. “I didn’t really think about it at the time, but it was probably him preparing me to find someone to look up to that wasn’t him.”
Spencer often finds himself thinking about if his dad would approve of what he’s doing.
“He was really into the Beach Boys and that was about all we listened to.” Spencer said. “So sometimes I’ll be listening to music I like and I’ll be wondering what he would have thought of that.”
Frequent Fridays, main stages and the International Baccalaureate program have all become part of Spencer’s routine. Many of Spencer’s theater friends, like Donovan, also do IB.
“It’s one program [where] you know that everyone who is in the program is going through the same things that you are,” Spencer said. “And not only everyone in the program, but everyone in the program around the world.”
Spencer is looking at colleges both inside and outside the U.S., like the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, that offer an archeology major. School is important to Spencer, but friends come first. Spencer remembers how his dad tried to strengthen friendships towards the end of his life and that’s something Spencer keeps in mind.
“Doing well in school is fun for me, but there are a lot of other things that are enjoyable, and sometimes those are a priority,” Spencer said. “Sometimes going out and hanging with friends is more important than doing an assignment.”