Woodstock Academy sends off Class of 2013

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Woodstock - posted Mon., Jun. 24, 2013
(L to r) Jake Almquist, Tristan Welch, Cameron Henry, Ian Converse and Sullivan Gardner leave Woodstock Academy with basketball championship memories. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L to r) Jake Almquist, Tristan Welch, Cameron Henry, Ian Converse and Sullivan Gardner leave Woodstock Academy with basketball championship memories. Photos by D. Coffey.

Woodstock Academy social studies teacher Greg Smith waited in a warm gymnasium for graduation ceremonies to begin on June 23. He had been chosen by the senior class to give the Baccalaureate address. It wasn't his first go-round giving the address. In his 20 years at Woodstock, he has been chosen to speak five times.

“I love them,” he said. “I really, really love them. I love being here every day.” Smith has made his mark on Woodstock students. He teaches civics, American and military history. He has been a longtime boys' basketball coach, and this year his team went all the way to the state championships – and won. So when he took his place at the podium, he was greeted with wild applause.

“Being selected to speak is the greatest honor this year,” he told the students, “and I've had a pretty good year.” And then he deftly turned the attention back onto the students.

First he congratulated them. “For 18 years your lives have been determined by family, school and society. Today that ends,” he said. The students clapped loudly. “You're clapping,” he said. “That's interesting, because now you have to figure out what you were put here to do.”

You have to find out who you are, he said. And it doesn't have to be what your family or teachers or friends think that should be, he said. “You have to find your bliss,” he told them.

And then to shore them up for the challenge, he shared his thoughts on how students had inspired him. He recognized senior members of the pep band that cheered the basketball team on their run to the sun.

He called out Mike Thompson. “You're a balanced and beautiful young man,” he said. He recognized Phil Lang's woodwork and artwork. “You inspired us,” he said. To Mike Boyle, a student he'd never spoken with, he shared the praise heaped on him by his art teacher. He congratulated the senior members of the basketball team for bringing a school and a community together in their run for the championship.

When he was preparing his speech, Smith said he asked faculty to tell him who inspired them. “Jason Bertram, 10 faculty members said you inspired them,” Smith said. “And you can't find 10 of us to agree on anything.”

Cameron Wilcox, who won the Kathryn Robertson Essay Award for the essay he gave at graduation, said his speech and Smith's had much in common. He spoke about the Boston Marathon bombings and how that tragedy turned into great accomplishment in terms of how people responded to it.

In what could go down as a year of tragedy, Wilcox focused on the strength that came through community and linked it back to Woodstock, using the basketball season as an anchor. “We're both talking about mostly the same thing,” Wilcox said. “It's what went on between the lines, what everyone did, not just the team. The community was behind it.”

“We've learned a lot of messages that we can take with us from here,” Wilcox said. “That's going to keep us strong no matter what happens in the future.”

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