Being on the Ellen DeGeneres Show is a celebrity moment.
West Craven High School principal Tabari Wallace was on the show Thursday.
But just as it was when his personal delivery of graduation signs to seniors at home in May went viral, he said his 15 minutes in the spotlight on national television was not about him.
“It was all about the kids,” said Wallace, who also ran Craven Hubs to provide Wi-Fi to distance learning students.
He was an instant hit with the audience, smiling and moving to the sound of the music as he made his entrance.
He and Ellen spoke about handing over graduation signs, the students’ struggle amid the pandemic, and strong community unity.
He explained how the school helps with everything from take-out food, the pantry to prom dresses for the students, whom he calls his “babies.”
“I made sure we were yelling at Craven County and the things that we were doing,” he said. “It was all about the kids. I made sure we kept everything on the kids.
Tabari was visibly moved when Ellen surprised him with tribute video clips from about 10 of his West Craven students.
In the midst of a 12-minute interview with several “wow” moments, none were more moving than when he was brought to tears as he spoke of his late daughter, Alexandria Pearl. Two weeks ago, it was her 16th birthday.
“I kept everything together until I started talking about my child who passed away,” he said. “The reason I’m so dedicated is that I live my daughter’s life through them, which is why I always call them my babies.”
He had never talked about it publicly before, but said the students’ video messages made it all stand out.
“A grown man was crying on TV, but I couldn’t help myself,” he said. “It sank. I just couldn’t hold it back.
Ellen had two final surprises for Tabari – her own sign, with a $ 25,000 donation to the Shutterfly School.
Tabari said students and staff will decide how to use the money.
The telecast drew rave reviews, but the journey to her seat on stage is a story in itself.
Thursday’s appearance was taped Tuesday, closing five eventful days for Tabari. But, the Ellen Show wanted it ever since it handed out the signs to graduates in late spring.
“It all started in May when we had this viral moment. They had been in contact with me from time to time since then, ”said Tabari.
The show took a summer sabbatical before Ellen could bring Tabari to Hollywood.
“So I thought it was over. I thought about it, I missed this opportunity, ”he said. “But, when the show started airing again, they called me back.”
After telephone conversations over the past three weeks, he received a call at 9.45 p.m. on September 18, asking if he could be on a plane to California by noon the next day. The show would take care of the logistics.
Tabari was not going to miss the opportunity twice.
“I called my superintendent and talked to my wife,” he says. “They said ‘come on, come on, you have to go, this is an opportunity of a lifetime.’ So I jumped on a plane to go coast to coast, with 10 hours of preparation. It was the craziest thing I think I ever did.
After arriving, he received what he described as “superstar treatment”, along with serious COVID-19 protocols.
He was quarantined for three days, passing four COVID-19 tests, as well as a quick test after a private car took him to the studio for recording. This was followed by a waiting period from noon to 5 p.m.
The shoot wasn’t just Tabari and Ellen and a crew in an empty auditorium.
He was surprised to see an audience, sort of.
Instead of people sitting down, the studio was filled with members of the audience streaming live on large screens from their homes – with sound.
“It was beautiful,” he says. “It was like they were there.”
He then realized the scope of the exhibition.
“My kids have been through so much, to see them on a national stage like that and shine the limelight with them like that was all I could ask for.
Another lasting memory will be the host.
“Ellen, I can’t say enough about her,” he said. “She has the biggest heart in America. She was extremely courteous and kind; she gets to know you, a very, very genuine person. She treats you like a professional, but almost like family. We’ve probably been nudged five times. . Everything you thought she was, she is, 10 times.
Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or at [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at Charlie Hall.