Alumni coming back to campus will undoubtedly detect a swirl of both exciting change and timeless continuity. Woodberry’s
physical plant has developed significantly in the past
decade with the construction of the Manning Family
Science Building and Kenan Hall. Now a state-of-the-art learning commons, the William H. White, Jr.
Library, has moved from Hanes Hall into the center
of the Walker Building, where, for generations, boys
and faculty enjoyed their meals in the Reynolds
Family Dining Room.
So much, however, remains exactly the same,
especially our steadfast commitment to character
and integrity as the cornerstones of our community.
As one of the few remaining all-boys, all-boarding
schools in the nation, we prize the organic nature
of our culture and seek ways for our students to
identify and pursue their interests. And to that end,
we launched a re-imagination of the final marking
period for seniors interested in bringing an idea to
life before their graduation.
Believing that many of our sixth formers had
“reached the point of autonomy before graduation
arrived,” veteran English teacher Ted Blain proposed
the Senior Distinction. He serves as the faculty
leader for this endeavor and has overseen a wide-ranging panoply of projects designed to empower
the boys to pursue their own ideas beyond the formal
curriculum. Interested boys apply by Christmas.
Ted’s criteria for acceptance stipulate that proposed
projects have the endorsement of a faculty mentor
and that “the course of study be both creative and
intellectual.” Once approved, boys are excused from
their formal classes in the last month of school so that
they might complete their projects and have time to
prepare a presentation for the school community
during the last week of school.
Each year I’m struck by the range of endeavors
the boys undertake and the unanticipated problems
they have to solve in order to complete their projects.
In 2016, for example, Spencer Goodwin and Darby
Henagan built a motorized automobile and, after
two successive all-nighters, drove the “car” around
campus. David Williams generated an extraordinary
portfolio of astrophotography, which required him to
photograph Woodberry’s night sky.
That same year, Graham Goldstein and Garnett
Reid each constructed a ukulele and played their
instruments at a community gathering. Graham,
who reports that “I still play my ukulele to this day,”
thinks of the Senior Distinction as akin to becoming
a parent: “The emotions one feels, the work it takes,
and the learning that one goes through to make
something out of nothing.”
In 2017 Maxwell Barnes wrote and performed
a sparkling one-man play. Thomas Bledsoe and
Rocco Zaytoun worked shoulder-to-shoulder with
our grounds crew and wrote a daily blog about the
campus flora, fertilizer, insecticide, weed control,
and botanical considerations that go into making
Woodberry beautiful for all of us. And Alex Krongard
built a jet engine from scratch.
This year Reece Tilgner researched the practicality
of using solar energy to take the school off the
grid. Kyle Kauffman and Andrew Jacobs compiled
an oral history of life along the Rapidan River
between Woodberry and Fredericksburg, including
a self-filmed four-day trip down the river. Sam Hull
created a documentary film replete with oral history
interviews to mark the fiftieth anniversary of racial
integration at Woodberry Forest School.
Those are just several samples of the wide-ranging
projects boys have undertaken as part of the Senior
Distinction. Graham recalls that “the program grants
the student the unique opportunity to challenge
himself, discover himself, work with others, and
finally, to realize what it means to devote your life to
I’m grateful to Ted and all the faculty mentors
who support the boys as they bring their ideas to life.
And I’m proud of the way that the Senior Distinction
advances Woodberry’s vision to encourage boys to
embark upon “an enthusiastic pursuit of lifelong
learning marked by curiosity and adaptability.”
I’m struck by the common thread of building and
constructing and heartened by the fact that the
school is graduating boys poised to make their own
contributions to their communities, the nation, and
Byron C. Hulsey ’86