By Michael A. Morris | michael@atljewishtimes.com

I want to reflect on an organization I have been intimately involved in for two decades, and Rosh Hashanah is the perfect time for reflection.

About Michael Morris

Michael Morris

I recently attended a dinner for the outgoing chairman of Woodward Academy. Ben Johnson had been the board chair for 33 years, quite the accomplishment and, more inspiring, quite the commitment.

Many of my family have called Woodward home for close to two decades. My eldest daughter, Jacqueline, began Woodward pre-kindergarten in 1998. I remember touring the school for the first time. The principal, Lee Vincent, walked us around campus, and something impressed me. As we wandered from classroom to classroom, every student was excited to see Mr. Vincent visit. In many instances, three or four students immediately left their desks and approached Mr. Vincent to ask him a question or attempt to drag him back to the desks to show what they were doing or creating.

A very nurturing environment, but that is not what sold me on Woodward. When Lee Vincent addressed each child by name and knew what kind of project each was working on, I became a Woodward parent.

In Woodward’s elementary school, parents are encouraged to participate in many programs, often weekly and certainly monthly. I found myself on campus several times a month, usually with a camera, snapping pictures of all the students doing all the crazy things that kids do from kindergarten through sixth grade. By the time my youngest at Woodward, Lydia, was in sixth grade, I had been mistaken for the school photographer (there wasn’t one) at least a dozen times.

I loved my participation in my kids’ school and have the pictures to prove it. My wife, Belinda, was also involved weekly.

In one of her first commitments, she signed up with her friend Donna Goldberg to decorate the school for the winter holidays. They were presented with all the Christmas decorations that needed to be hung around the school. As you can imagine, there was not one Chanukah decoration.

I do not want to tally how much Harry Goldberg and I spent on Chanukah decorations for Woodward through the years, but I am proud to say there is something to show for it. In the last few years I was involved in the elementary school, Father Christmas wandered from class to class with a menorah in hand and offered Chanukah stories and a game of dreidel.

One of the more impactful moments in Woodward’s elementary experience is graduation from sixth grade. Graduates sing and perform, receive awards and distinctions, and listen to an inspirational address by Mr. Vincent (yes, I have the pictures). In addition, each student is given the opportunity to reflect on eight years at Woodward.

What makes this ceremony so touching is that at the young age of 12 or 13 these children have spent more than half their lifetime at this home called Woodward Academy, and their stories reflect their understanding, their sad goodbyes and their cautious optimism moving forward. Having attended three of these graduations for my daughters, I can attest to there not being a dry eye in the audience.

These were not final goodbyes. Woodward continues into middle school and high school. At this point, sports dominate parental involvement. For Lydia and a friend from Camp Barney days, Samantha Freedman, it is volleyball. Several times a week Belinda (or Ken Freedman) keeps score, and I, well, you guessed, take photographs. They are two of five graduating seniors on Woodward’s varsity team.

A few weeks ago Lydia’s senior year began, and I received an email from Woodward inviting me to the first day of her last year. For me, it was especially poignant. After 17 years, this will be the last year that one of my daughters attends Woodward. A chapter in my life and that of my children is coming to an end. (My youngest daughter, Hannah, is in 10th grade at Weber. She did attend Woodward briefly; however, she will graduate from Weber, as did her sister Alex.)

The teachers, administrators, coaches, other parents and my children’s friends who have become like family will dissipate. At the end of this year, after 18 years, this family will vanish.

It will be an emotional year as I say goodbye to an institution that has had such a profound impact on my family. It will be a year filled with the last of many traditions. I will always look back fondly at Woodward as new chapters like college, work and new families wait around the corner. Ben, my hat is off to you. Your commitment to Woodward has spanned almost 60 years. You graduated in 1961 (Georgia Military Academy at the time), and you are just retiring as board chair. Thank you for your commitment, and thank you for sharing your family with mine.