Isham and the art of conversation

(From left to right) Garrett McNeil (11), Ben Isham (9), Clark Thomas (11) and Kylie Grant (11) stop for a selfie in the hallway. Isham met these students between classes, a time where he meets many students and staff members. (BEN ISHAM//USED WITH PERMISSION)

I read the news today oh boy/About a lucky man who made the grade/And though the news was rather sad/Well I just had to laugh.” These are the opening lines of “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles, Ben Isham’s (9) favorite song from his favorite band. 

Isham is a lover of music, pizza and talking to new people – something he does quite often.

“I started getting interested [in meeting new people] in eighth grade,” Isham said. “I just wanted to meet new people.”

Now Isham has met, as of early March, 37 staff members and numerous students anywhere from the hallway to cafeteria to the courtyard. One of the teachers Isham has gotten to know this year is Chance Williamson, Pre-AP, AP and World History teacher. 

“I think I was talking to somebody else, and he just walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’” Williamson said. “ … And finally, when I could get around to talking to him, I said ‘Hey, I’m Mr. Williamson. What’s your name?’ And just kind of went from there.”

Since their first meeting, the two talk around two to three times a week. A common topic they discuss is a mutual loved dish — pizza. For Isham, some of his favorite spots are Memphis Pizza Cafe and Garibaldi’s.

“I call him ‘the pizza man,’ and he always comes in [and] talks to me or he’ll send me a message on Instagram like ‘Hey, I had pizza for dinner,’” Williamson said. “So, that’s one common thing we have.”

For Williamson, Isham’s optimism stands out amongst many of the students he encounters day to day. 

“As someone who personally struggles with anxiety and kind of a depressive nature at times, it’s nice to have a student come in and just be happy,” Williamson said. “Because sometimes that can be a struggle for people, really everyone, but I tend to be prone to more anxious thoughts so having somebody come in — especially early in the morning in the day and smiling, him happy to see me — a lot of students, for whatever reason, are not happy to be here.”

Isham’s other larger passion, music, has also forged some friendships like with Clark Thomas (11), who Isham met in the hallway. The two often chat about different bands and have similar tastes.

“[He] talks about his newest songs,” Thomas said. “He sends me a lot on Instagram like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Sound Garden.”

As Isham visits many people throughout the day, he does not always run into Thomas and some of his other friends, but he tends to leave a similar impression on all those he talks to. 

“Just his charisma, honestly, just being really happy all the time,” Thomas said. “It’s an admirable trait. Like, I’m not always happy all the time, so it’s cool.”

Introducing himself to new teachers has also helped Isham meet more music lovers like Michael Stephenson, AP U.S. History teacher, who plays various genres of music in his class during the transition periods and practical law teacher William Fernandez, who is also a Beatles fan. Once, Fernandez let Isham play his guitar, and they both sang along to songs by the band. 

“It was fun, and it felt like the Beatles’s ‘Let It Be’ movie,’” Isham said. 

Through his conversations, Isham has learned anything from the favorite restaurants to the weekend plans to the favorite movies of various staff and students. Through his interactions, those he talks to are provided an opportunity to learn from his optimism. 

“It’s just nice to have somebody with a positive attitude, and I would encourage other students to maybe learn from that, because having a positive attitude can certainly carry you a long way and in some fashion or form,” Williamson said. “So, learning from Ben how to be positive, finding joy in the simple things. I mean, we found common ground in a dish that we like. Finding joy in the simple things, and really being positive as best you can is certainly something I think we can all probably take away and learn from a guy like Ben.”