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Years of competition give birth to friendship between MCHS top duo

By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Ashton Smith

Ashton Smith

Chelsea Landis

Chelsea Landis

Val-Sal Landis and Smith color Val-Sal Landis and SmithThe showdown unofficially started August 2012.
In one corner stood the daughter of Ashley and Matt Summerfield — Chelsea Marie Landis. In the opposite corner, the offspring of Courtney Dixon-Smith and Tarvis Smith — Ashton Smith.
The title on the line for both Millington Central High School students was the 2016 Valedictorian. After four years of back and forth combat, the winner by a narrow decision of 4.4259 to 4.4231 was Landis.
“We first met in the ninth grade,” Salutatorian Smith recalled. “We had a couple of the same classes — Biology and English. We started getting as close as we are now last year. I look back at that year and we had a majority of our classes together. And we just started hanging out more and talking more. We found out we have a lot in common with each other.”
The rivalry between Landis and Smith grew into mutual respect and later bloomed into a bond of true friendship.
“It was after the (National Honor Society) induction and we were just standing outside talking,” Landis recalled. “’Hey do you want to go get some ice cream?’ She had just recently started working at Dairy Queen. ‘Let’s go to Dairy Queen.’ One of our friends Anyon Bess also came along. And another one of our close friends Austin (Brewer) showed up as well.
“We just started talking about actual stuff,” she continued. “It’s stuff nowadays people can’t talk about without getting offended. We started talking about politics and all the problems we think are facing America today. Just interesting stuff like that, not superficial things. It made me feel really good that there are people I can actually talk to about stuff like that. It became a tradition every Tuesday during the summer.”
The duo will go from sharing a table at Dairy Queen to occupying the stage Thursday night during the 2016 MCHS Commencement. Also joining Landis and Smith will be Co-Salutatorian Brittany Wright.
While Wright was a dark horse for the top spot late in the race, most members of the MCHS Class of 2016 knew Smith and Landis were prime candidates for Valedictorian.
“I was No. 1 after freshman year,” Smith said. “She was after sophomore year. Then me after junior year and now she is No. 1. It was kind of in the back of my mind, ‘Oh she’s so close.’ Or, ‘I’m right behind her. I just need to push myself a little bit more to be back at the top.’”
Landis acknowledge their early interactions were purely out of rivalry.
“Whenever I first found out the rankings after our freshmen year, I was like I really didn’t know,” she said. “I never really thought about the rankings before. We just kept going back and forth each semester. It made me study even harder.”
Then came the day toward the end of their junior year after lighting their candles to be inducted in the MCHS Chapter of the NHS. Landis saw Smith in a new light.
“We’re both into really nerdy stuff,” she said. “She’s really into Dragon Ball Z and I’m really into Pokemon. We both really like to read. We were always there to help each other on work we’ve procrastinated on. We’ve got each others back.”
Smith quickly realized she could talk with Landis on a higher  intellectual level.
“We usually have to dumb ourselves down to talk to other people in our peer group,” she acknowledged. “There we didn’t have to do that. It was liberating to actually speak my mind without being looked at weird or without having a opinion.”
As they conversed, the girls found they both work at fast food establishments like Dairy Queen and Domino’s. They are both a part of several academic clubs on campus and were inducted into the 2016 MCHS Hall of Fame.
On the surface Landis and Smith appear different, but they expressed their bond is more than skin deep.
“We’ve never held any kind of prejudices or judgments to each other,” Landis said. “We’re just people. She’s the main reason I am where I am today. We’ve had this friendly competition going back and forth ever since ninth grade. I feel it’s only right she be right there beside me because we were both there motivating each other.”
Smith said Landis has always been a classmate and a person to respect.
“We’ve been in the same classes the previous year,” she said. “So I knew how she thought. I was just glad I could actually have somebody to talk to. I didn’t think about the fact she’s white and I’m black.
“Our stories are so similar like who inspires us,” Smith added. “Who we hold special to our hearts. The fact we’re so close it didn’t bother me. A lot of people have a problem with sharing the spotlight. It doesn’t bother me because I love her so much.”
Forming a lifetime friendship, the girls have gotten to know each others’ families and friends. Smith said her parents were her additional motivate for academic success.
“Obviously I’m a Daddy’s Girl,” she said. “I love my Dad so much and of course my Mom too. They’ve pushed me so much. ‘Don’t ever give up but don’t push yourself too hard to where you fall off and hurt yourself.’ They told me to push myself to my full potential. And they’ve always been there when I did fall.”
Landis said her mother served as inspiration and later motivation.
“My mom hands down, she has overcome a lot,” she recalled. “She actually went to college and graduated with honors when she had all of us. She had all three of us and graduated with honors from Southwest College.
“She never talks down to me and there to motivate me,” Landis added. “She always made sure I  was on track. After a while she didn’t even have to ask me, she knew I took care of things.”
Taking care of business helped Landis earn the top spot in the MCHS Class of 2016. The girl right on her heels will be right by her side at The University of Memphis. Both will attend the Honors College at U of M with Smith majoring in Pre-Med. Meanwhile Landis will take on the challenge of Biology Science concentrating on forensics.
“It feels really good because, one, I don’t have to be up there along,” Landis said. “I get to share the stage. It feels great to be up there with people who are really close friends. Everybody in the Top 10, we’ve known each other for a while and a good few of us are really close friends. It’s good to know everybody is not at each other’s throats. We are there for each other.”
Smith noted at the end of the day, all who graduate from MCHS are Trojans. And she’s glad to share a bond with her best competition and now friend.
“It feels good to me because a lot of people take rank so seriously,” Smith concluded. “It becomes the only thing they think about. They forget that they do have friends and people to fall back on. I feel like having people see that No. 1 and No. 2 can be close friends like we are. That gives you the motivation you need to push yourself but don’t let it ruin you and overcome you.”

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