By Kate Lee,
Members of the Davis High community were devastated by the unexpected death of former Davis teen Kaleb McYates, who passed away last year on Dec. 31, 2014. McYates, who was adopted from Ethiopia as a child, moved to Davis in 2010 and attended Holmes Junior High. His friendly, funny personality allowed him to make friends easily. His friends remember him for his unique and contagious laugh, and for always playing jokes and making other people smile.
McYates spent his last few moments in Davis with his friends.
“On that last day, he told me he wanted to get some presents for his family, so we went downtown where he bought the gifts and he even asked if there was anything I wanted,” junior Elan Sonstein said. “He was just a very generous person.”
Sonstein met McYates on the first day of seventh grade, and was quick to introduce McYates to the rest of his friends. They all clicked instantly.
“He migrated into our group right away,” Sonstein said. “But he became friends with everyone he met right away.”
“We all became friends with Kaleb so instantly when he came to Davis because he was willing to be vulnerable and put himself out there and make friends,” junior Ben Simmons said.
Junior Cory Guerrero also met McYates on the first day of seventh grade, and remained close with him ever since.
“Everyone around him wanted to be friends with him,” Guerrero said. “He had this really funny laugh that I could never imitate, and he was always in a happy mood.”
Senior Marquis Turner got to know McYates in junior high too, and said the two could spend forever laughing about things that probably only they found funny.
Junior Matt Grabert was one of McYates’ friends and spent time with him almost every day in junior high.
“Every time he came over, he would make a special effort to talk to my dad, my mom and my brother. Kaleb was family,” Grabert said.
Junior Dchenin Moreno got to know McYates through orchestra. In eighth grade, they went to an orchestral competition together at Great America, and in a typical-Kaleb way, he convinced her to stand near one of the water rides, claiming it would give her a “light splash.”
Moreno didn’t notice all the “splash zone” warning signs until it was too late and she was knocked over by a wave of water, creating a memory that her and McYates would crack up about from then on.
During his time spent in Davis, McYates left a positive impact on the lives of everyone he touched. His friends all say he deeply cared about everyone, and it showed. If his friends ever had a problem, McYates could always be counted on to comfort them and give them a hug.
“When I was in junior high, I got hit by a car while I was on my bike. It was on an Articulation Day in front of a bunch of people, so everyone saw, and of course people were worried and nice to me, but Kaleb was the only person who came to visit me at home and actually see how I was doing,” junior Francis Avoce recalled. “And that was just a very Kaleb thing to do. He cared a lot about others.”
“He was friendly, he was funny and he just had a really warm energy to him,” junior Cameryn Cox said. “He always made you feel comfortable when you were with him. I think that’s part of why everyone loved spending time with him.”
“We could spend hours and hours on the phone just laughing,” junior Sarina Buchanan said. She became very close with him at Holmes, and kept in touch after McYates moved to Berkeley during his freshman year. “He was always happy to hang out with me or to help me out when I needed him.”
“One of my favorite memories with Kaleb [was] making plantain chips with him for an extra credit assignment,” junior Daniel Johnson said. “For some reason, we could just not stop laughing that day.”
Johnson wrote a song for McYates after learning of his death, and called it “Plantains.” It’s featured in the video of Sonstein, Cox and Guerrero that accompanies this article and the full song can be found here.
“Kaleb really inspired me to become friends with people who I normally wouldn’t have because that’s just what he did,” Da Vinci junior Sierra Marie said. “He befriended everyone.”
Da Vinci junior Dale Calhoun is one of many who admired how McYates always found the bright side of every situation.
“Since knowing Kaleb, I find myself laughing at myself when I make a mistake, despite the situation in which I goofed,” Calhoun said. “He just overcame a lot of obstacles and struggles in his life and somehow was still always happy and caring towards others,” Cox said.
“He was a kid from Ethiopia, which is one of the hardest places on Earth to live, but he still had a more positive attitude that most of the people I know,” Turner said. “And we needed more happy people in the world.”
McYates will always be remembered for his optimism, for his compassion and for the laughter he always brought with him.
“I know he wouldn’t want anyone to be sad right now,” Buchanan said. She believes he would want everyone to be happy for the good times they shared with him. “I’ve never had a friendship like the one I had with Kaleb,” Simmons said. “It was so easy to talk to him about anything. I knew he’d have my back no matter what, and we just had nothing to worry about when we were together.”