When she was just 7 years old, Toya Turknett knew she wanted to sing at the Sydney Opera House one day. This summer, she got the chance to do just that.
Toya Turknett, a sophomore at Lakeside, was a student ambassador to Australia this summer and sang at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"I remember when I was 7, I saw a picture of the Sydney Opera House and I said, 'I'm going to sing there one day,'" said Toya, the 15-year-old daughter of Jerry and Marilyn Turknett, of Martinez.
During a trip to New Zealand and Australia with the People-to-People Student Ambassador Program, Toya tried out her vocal talents in the house, which opened in 1973 and has a seating capacity of nearly 4,700.
"We were touring the Sydney Opera House and they asked if anyone wanted to try out the acoustics," said Toya, who has been singing since the age of 4. Later that night, Toya read a letter from her father.
"Prior to going on the trip, the students go through an extensive training program," Mr. Turknett said. "One of the things they told us through the parents' program was to write letters to our children to be given to them at a specific time during their trip to keep their morale up. I thought and prayed about what to write to Toya. She's a very gifted singer, and when I saw she'd be getting my letter when she would be visiting the Sydney Opera House, I wrote to her that if she got the opportunity to sing in the Sydney Opera House, 'I want you to sing with your all and let it out.'"
He didn't learn of Toya's experience until later. He said he was proud of her for fulfilling a dream.
"She sang in front of all these people from all different nations," Mr. Turknett said.
Toya, too, is proud of the opportunity.
"That night I was homesick," she recalled. "That night when I was packing, I came across the letters and I was already homesick when I came to my dad's letter. I just broke down."
But Toya didn't let her homesickness prevent her from enjoying the rest of the trip. She rappelled off a 210-foot cliff in New Zealand, climbed atop the 440-foot Sydney Harbour Bridge and went luging down a mountain. She also made lots of friends. She said she's still in contact with a few of them from the program.
"When you are with each other 20 hours a day, you become friends," she said. "We became a family."
One family that Toya largely credits for her being able to go on the trip is the one she has at Christian City of Praise in Augusta.
"I got a lot of support from my church," said the Lakeside High School sophomore, who is a member of the school's show choir, beta club and debate team.
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