As the winter comes to a close, the Woodbury’s come to center stage. Unlike in the past years, the six speakers inspired the crowd not in the chapel, but in the gymnasium. The poor sound quality in this venue presented them with a challenge; however, they were able to leave the audience wanting more.
In Will Smith’s second Woodbury of the year, he gave, what he described as, “one single incredibly long sentence about Belmont Hill on a snowless winter day”. He maintained the same grammatical structure, using the word “by” repeatedly, to convey the magic of our school. He saw the beauty of the small, ordinary occurrences that take place, including checking your school email and seeing that someone “tragically” lost their iPhone charger or sunglasses. He effectively encapsulated his speech as he considered the snowless day to be merely a dream.
Abe Tolkoff, a winner of the Woodbury Prize, portrayed how he latched onto photography in his chaotic freshmen year. He conveyed how the most powerful photos take a specific emotion or instant and contextualized them to give insight into someone’s life with just a single image. He made it clear that the difference between a good photographer and a great photographer is that a great photographer makes himself vulnerable and creates something greater than that which is in front of him. He finished by asserting that he uses photography to be present in the world and not to stand behind in the shadows.
Sammy Jomaa gave a startling account of how he fled Lebanon at the age of four and became a refugee. The war between the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and Israel forced thousands, including Sammy, to flee the country. With the help of the U.S. embassy, the Jomaas reached the island of Cyprus, where other refugees waited to be flown to the U.S. Because of his blind brother, Sammy only stayed on the island for a day and reached the U.S. that night. Reflecting back on his family’s past, he saw parallels between him and Syrian and Central American refugees who are trying to enter the country. He ended by wishing the audience to realize that these refugees are people just like us and should be accepted into and have similar opportunities to us.
The other winner of the Woodbury Prize, Erick Silva, commanded respect from the audience as he described his family’s struggles. He described how students’ jackets and ties mask their financial status and struggles. Underneath his jacket and tie, his family fights to provide him with a good life. His mother, a housecleaner, worked twelve-hour shifts just to put food on the table for his family. His sister’s worked as teenagers to support him, and his family saw him as the man destined to lead the family to success. For Erick, all the work that his family put in became worth it when he received his acceptance letter to Belmont Hill.
Gregory Desrosiers used the light-hearted topic of his Tik-Tok account to portray a deeper life lesson: to be yourself and to not let others’ opinions stand in your way. For him, he finds the number of comments that his 225,000 followers leave on his posts to be absurd. He cannot comprehend why they care so much about his life and the choices he makes in it. This realization of his to not care about other people’s judgement started back when he was a kid, listening to Lady Gaga. Her lyrics “I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way” continue to be his mantra as his Tik Tok career lives on.
Archie Perry concluded this year’s Woodbury performances with his “All in Archie” speech. As a kid, he was a daredevil who jumped off peers and played aggressively on the poker table. He became a “frequent flier” in the emergency room and had to visit the dentist’s office frequently. However, at Belmont Hill, he described how he became timid in the Middle School and not “All in Archie”. He would not take the class that his older brother took so that he could avoid being compared to him. Nonetheless, “All in Archie” has come back in the Upper School in a more nuanced and complicated way. For example, he went out and performed a solo for the B-Flats and jumped off a one hundred foot peer. He believes that people should go out on a limb and not be afraid to take an occasional risk.
This year’s Woodbury speeches are definitely ones to remember, and everyone should be excited for the next round of Woodbury’s next year.