“Live in the moment and think ahead. That’s my motto,” recited senior Tessa Joy Davis. Tessa passed away on Jan. 7 due to a rare lung cancer doctors diagnosed a year ago. She was the only patient ever recorded with her cancer under the age of 35, a disease usually contracted by middle-aged smokers. However, in her community, Tessa, also known as “Dave,” will be remembered for the memories we have of her.
Upon meeting Tessa for the first time, one was immediately struck by her personality; bright-eyed, hilarious, and kind, she made an impression. Senior vegetarian Maddie Sinsigalli commented, “In fourth grade she shoved a ham sandwich in my face. And then Dave and I were friends.” Tessa cared deeply about handshakes; she often commented on how important a handshake was for a first impression. If Tessa shook your hand, she probably made a determination on your psychological being based on its strength, duration, and firmness.
Tessa’s spirit was evidenced by her undefeated title in winning every single CT English spirit day. “On the CT color spirit days, she wore everything [of the required color],” commented senior Jaina Ponkey. “She tied socks on her legs. She would take ribbon and shoe laces and string all her stuffed animals of the appropriate color around her like a sash. She wore face paint, and she refused to shed any layers until the judging to make sure that she would win.” Tessa won Class Clown of her eighth grade class, and at Mountain Camp, a classic summer camp in the Sierras, Tessa was voted Most Valued Counselor in Training for her work volunteering with a young cabin, her humor, and her enthusiasm.
Growing up on the mountain made Tessa adventurous. In 6th grade, she climbed Half Dome. Senior Cali Vance stated, “When we were hiking Half Dome and we got to the cables part, she was really scared, but everyone said, ‘You’ve made it this far, so you’ve got to keep going.’ So we made it to the top.” Tessa loved outdoor wilderness activities like river rafting, skiing, hiking, camping, sailing, wake boarding, and cliff jumping. “For her sophomore passion project in Mr. Garrett’s class she did adventure,” said senior Natalie Jagelski. “In her video she played a clip of her jumping off a cliff and then said, ‘Oops, I just sprained my ankle right there.’ We all cracked up.”
Tessa was also musically gifted. She started playing the piano in third grade and spent hours writing her own songs on her great-grandmother’s piano. Senior Hannah Blevins recalled, “We were all in the CC room [at CT English] getting ready [for a musical]. After our pump up chants were over, Tessa got on the piano and started to play Don’t Stop Believin. She started singing and more people joined in. The entire room was belting out Don’t Stop Believing. It was amazing.” Tessa utilized not only her musical talent, but also her acting in her 15 musical productions at both Theatre in the Mountains (TIM) and San Jose’s Children’s Musical Theater (CMT). One of her most memorable roles was the Queen in Once Upon a Mattress, where she is commonly quoted for her famous performance of the line, “You swam the moat?” Tessa also starred as Horton in Seussical, Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, and Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast. In high school, Tessa learned to play the guitar in Introduction to Guitar 1. This past month, she had already begun brainstorming her song for the senior talent show.
The first community Tessa joined at LGHS was the water polo team. Tessa naturally took to the sport with the necessary aggressive and competitive edge; she also had already learned to egg beater from her sister. Tessa returned her sophomore year as a dominant player after a year of training in the off-season, playing both with the West Valley Water Polo club team and competing in 50m butterfly for LGHS’s swim team. She was easily voted JV captain and won Most Valued Player at the end of the season. Tessa’s JV coach and LGHS water polo alumna Amy Fry said, “Tessa made me smile every day on deck. She was so driven all the time, and she loved life. She worked hard every single day.” Tessa played on the varsity team her junior year; her confidence in the pool and her aggressive two-meter playing earned her the spot as the first sub. Tessa’s varsity coach Don Appleton commented, “Her smile gave motivation to teammates, her goofy comments before games calmed nerves, and her positivity made a coach look forward to coming to workout everyday.”
About a month after her junior year polo season, Tessa received her diagnosis. During her senior year Tessa was unable to get in the water, but she still came to the games to cheer from the bleachers wearing her cap #7. When Tessa was not present at games, coach Don kept her cap in his back pocket for good luck. “This season Tessa brought inspiration to the team and helped us have the strongest season in my career at LG,” said Appleton. Before games, the girls met in a circle in the center of the pool for their pre-game cheer. The girls yelled, “Team TJ!” to remind themselves and the stands who they played for before splashing the water.
This past October Tessa was crowned homecoming queen at LGHS. “We were all really nervous, because we really wanted her to win,” stated senior Leilani Bellamy. “They announced Nipul [as the homecoming king] first, and then we all did this big drum roll hoping for Tessa. When they called her name, the stands went berserk. I wanted to run up there and hug her, but she had to do her dance. Being friends with the queen was the coolest part of the night.”
With Tessa’s diagnosis, she learned a lot about nutrition, medicine, and the human body. She started writing a cookbook for cancer patients with all of the healthy recipes she and her family discovered. Her family and friends plan to finish what she started in her honor. Tessa’s dream career was to become a nutritionist to help others learn the healthy tips she did due to her diagnosis.
Some may reflect that from Tessa’s story we should gain perspective, that we shouldn’t complain about our problems, because hers were bigger. However, Tessa wrote in her college essay, “While my cancer is currently my biggest struggle, it does not invalidate the biggest problem of another person’s life even though such a problem may not be as significant if it were in my world. My struggles are real to me just as their struggles are real to them.” Though Tessa is no longer with us, we can remember to live our lives according to her mantra “Live in the moment and think ahead.”
Categories: People, School News
I came to your article via a Google search as well. A group of my students found a bottle labeled “Random Joy Finder’s Keepers” today in Missoula, Montana! I am so happy I’ve learned a bit more about this amazing young woman and I hope her family and friends know that the bottles they’re placing are bringing joy to people! My students bought ice cream for all of their friends with the $50 inside!
I am so sorry that such an amazing young woman was taken from you so soon, but thankful for the joy you’re spreading in her honor.
I hope someone can pass this along to the family of Tessa Joy. My sister and I were walking in Point Reyes Station today and I saw a little bottle propped up in a window sill. My sister said not to take it, but there was something about it. I picked it up and saw that it said “Random Joy, open….” I took it, but did not open it. I was out for the day and wanted to bring something home for my 15 year old twin daughters. Upon arriving home I handed the little bottle to one of my girls and told her to open it. A moment later she shrieked with excitement…there was a $50 bill inside! We were saddened to read Tessa Joy’s story and decided that her family would be pleased to know that some of her good karma had landed in the hands of other young people. And we wanted to say thanks! So thank you! You have brought some joy to our lives!
Silvia Grassetti-Kruglikov, Alameda, CA
Thank you so much for writing this. I did not know Tessa but heard about her last night and wanted to find out more about someone who was clearly a remarkable young lady. I searched Google and found your piece. From your careful, heartfelt and well written article I was able to get a sense of Tessa’s personality and how people felt about her. You were all clearly blessed to have had her in your lives.