Five graduates from Holy Trinity Academy are grateful for their time in high school, despite their final year ending unexpectedly.
Triplets Tyra, Alexa and Sierra Milliken-Smith, drama guru Evan Nisi and football player and videographer Chase Jordan all credit HTA for providing them with the best possible experience as they worked through the last three months of high school amidst a pandemic.
They feel prepared to take their next steps and have found friends and passions to last a lifetime while learning within the walls of their high school.
The Milliken-Smith Triplets
Working through a pandemic isn’t so bad when you’re quarantined with two of your best friends.
Tyra, Alexa and Sierra Milliken-Smith say they felt lucky to have each other as they dealt with distance learning and adjusted to a new normal.
“We’re not alone,” said Tyra. “During the first part of quarantine we didn’t see a lot of our friends but we saw each other, so it wasn’t as bad as everyone else had it.”
In fact, she said she thrived in the online school environment, other than missing out on the social side of attending HTA.
It was the first time since Grade 7 the triplets have ever been in the same classroom.
“We always requested to be in different classes, because in Grade 7 we were all in the same class and we didn’t make any friends,” said Tyra. “We were intimidating all together, that’s what some people told us after, they didn’t want to approach us.”
They’ve shared some classes since, but not all three at the same time. Tyra and Alexa were in the same Chem 20 class, which they said was fun.
“Alexa sat in front of me, so I always pulled her hair and poked her with a pencil,” said Tyra.
In the classroom, they said there’s never been too much question about who’s who, despite the three being identical. Each has her own
personality that makes her stick out, and their close friends, classmates, and teachers have learned how to tell them apart.
“We would help by wearing something signature, like Tyra would have a necklace she would always wear, and I would always wear long,
funky socks and Alexa would just dress kind of normal,” said Sierra.
Their hairstyles were different although all three have long red locks, and clothing styles also set them apart, she said.
Those traits made it possible to tell who’s who, but that also made it difficult for the triplets to get away with switching places in the classroom.
“We never even tried in high school because in middle school we tried but when we were in the other person’s class all our classmates would just
tell on us, like ‘You’re not Sierra,’ so we didn’t get to have much fun with it,” said Tyra.
Teachers had a more difficult time telling them apart in the hallway, which she said was entertaining.
“They’d be like, ‘Hey, Red,’ because we have red hair,” said Tyra. “Or they’d try to guess, and we’d have fun with it because if they guessed it right
“One teacher, Mr. ( Joey) Baldwin, he would always see just two of us in the hallway, so he had this theory we were just twins and not triplets and always bug us about that.”
Aside from some fun in the hall or the occasional class together, being in school with two identical siblings wasn’t much different than it is for
other students, she said.
They have the same group of friends, but there are also people outside that immediate circle who have befriended just one of the
three sisters, so they each have something of their own as well, she said.
It’s those friends and the camaraderie with teachers they’ve missed since March, but Sierra said they’re grateful to the school and their classmates for
their years together.
“I’m grateful we still got education and still got to graduate through this whole thing,” she said. “Our teachers have been really helpful and it’s gone as well as
it could have.”
She said they’re excited to have a virtual graduation ceremony, because it would feel incomplete to end without some kind of
“That’s what we’ve worked for our whole life,” said Sierra.
When it comes to movies, there’s not a whole lot Evan Nisi hasn’t seen, and he’ll gladly share his opinion of them with anyone who asks.
His love of film drove him toward fine arts endeavours during his time at HTA, like being part of the art and drama clubs, playing Dungeons and Dragons after school, and having a role in the school’s production of West Side Story in 2018.
That passion extended into the community as well, volunteering with the Okotoks Film Festival and the Windmill Theatre in High River.
It’s all leading toward his dream.
“I’m going to be a drama teacher,” said Nisi. “Since Grade 7 basically, I’ve just worked toward that goal.”
He’s attending the University of Lethbridge in September to begin his drama education degree, and said he’s glad he visited campus in the fall.
“I’m just happy I’m not one of those people who didn’t pick their university before this (COVID-19) went down, because now you can’t see your school and that’s got to be tough,” said Nisi.
While pursuing his passion through high school, he said he went through a period of change and self-improvement, guided by the school’s counsellor, Kaitlin O’Leary. He credits her with helping him get past personal hurdles and finding his drive.
“She has taught me how to move on and keep improving in life more than anyone, changing what I wanted to change,” said Nisi.
As a social person, he said he found it difficult to end Grade 12 with online schooling, despite the fact his grades went up.
“It’s been extremely hard,” said Nisi. “I miss hanging out with more people. But I’m looking forward to the fall and seeing what this adventure is. I’m excited.”
If there’s one word Chase Jordan would use to describe high school pre-COVID, it’s “busy.”
With a full schedule of classes as well as playing defensive back on the Tier II provincial champion football team, trying out for rugby, and video-editing for the Knights football and Okotoks Oilers hockey clubs, there weren’t many spare moments for Jordan at HTA.
He’s taking that experience to post-secondary, attending Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s videography program in the fall, and while the plan was to produce sports videos, he’s not sure whether that’s the career he’ll end up with.
“I have a full-time job at a welding company so that’s also on my mind to maybe do that,” said Jordan.
He said the teachers at HTA have set him up for life beyond high school, opening doors and setting him on a potential career path. Kevin Crawford, who taught new media, was one of the most influential teachers at the school, he said.
“He showed me many new ways to do video,” said Jordan.
Holy Trinity’s mandatory service hours also played a role – Jordan was unsure how to fulfil his volunteer commitments and Tara Epp, the school’s student services department head, came up with an idea that suited him.
“She got me into videotaping for the (Okotoks) Oilers,” said Jordan. “From there I just kind of grew more into it and I enjoyed it.”
While the year didn’t finish the way he thought it would, Jordan said the virtual graduation ceremony will be something to remember.
“It’s so helpful for us grads, so we’re still connected to our teachers and everybody,” said Jordan. “It’s not what I thought it would be, but that’s okay.”