Woodward graduates get surprise deliveries

Izzy Wheeler, graduating senior, reacts as Dr. Stuart Gulley, president of Woodward Academy, personally delivers a special gift bag and yard sign at her home in College Park on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The private school with campuses in College Park and Johns Creek, ended its school year that day, and teachers and staff personally delivered special treats and spirit wear to seniors’ houses. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM
Izzy Wheeler, graduating senior, reacts as Dr. Stuart Gulley, president of Woodward Academy, personally delivers a special gift bag and yard sign at her home in College Park on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The private school with campuses in College Park and Johns Creek, ended its school year that day, and teachers and staff personally delivered special treats and spirit wear to seniors’ houses. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM

The nearly two months of distance learning concluded Tuesday for the Class of 2020 at Woodward Academy. The largest private school in metro Atlanta is among the first to end its school year. Like those in every other school, the students lost their end-of-year culminating activities. They had to forgo prom, senior week, sports and senior class banquets and May graduation.

So a small group of administrators, teachers and other staff of the College Park school added a bright spark to the last day of school by hand-delivering personalized graduation lawn signs, spirit wear and other goodies to the houses of 257 of the 268 seniors. The other 11 were too far away and had their gifts send by FedEx.

“Perhaps the most difficult decision we had to make was postponing graduation,” said spokeswoman Amy Morris. “Our hearts break for those students who have worked so hard and for so long.”

The volunteers gathered at 9 a.m. at the main campus, quickly donning masks and gloves. And with more stealth than one would imagine a caravan of school buses could produce, the party scattered to the four corners.

The first stop was just a few blocks from the school down Rugby Avenue.

As President Stuart Gulley hurried up the walk with yard sign and goody bag in hand, he rang the bell a few times before a sleepy senior came to the door.

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Perhaps the last person McCoy Pace expected to see at his door was Gulley, but his smile showed the surprise was welcomed.

“I really missed Dr. Gulley and the teachers,” he said, still a little dazed. “I group chat with my friends regularly and we play X-Box and Facetime so I pretty much kept up with them.”

Many of the seniors had already received offers before school shut down for the year from colleges they want to attend.

Pace will be attending Columbia University where he’ll further his wresting career. He’s contemplating a major in political science.

“One of the great things about Columbia is that the core classes have you try out a lot of things. I might find something else that I want to do.”

Instead of focusing on what he was missing out on, he used the stay-at-home order to prepare for college.

“Taking calculus remotely was a challenge, but the teachers were great,” he said. “They stayed late and gave extra help to make sure we were getting it.”

Just two houses down, Isabelle “Izzy” Wheeler concurred.

The dog barking at the commotion outside might have tipped her off that something was going on, but she came to the door just as sleepy-looking as Pace.

“I was sitting in bed eating cereal,” she said, laughing.

Like Pace, she had nothing but praise for the faculty at Woodward for helping her and her classmates navigate through the rough waters of the last two months.

“It’s really sad, but I’m thankful for good neighbors and teachers that helped us stay on task,” she said.

Wheeler plans to attend college closer to home at Kennesaw State.

“I love the diversity there and that it better mirrors Woodward,” she said.

Wheeler added that she’ll miss the fun and creativity. She was allowed to make a Tik Tok (an app that allows the user to make short videos) for her social media final.

“That just make sense, right? I mean it is about social media!”

Gulley said he was amazed at how well the students transitioned. Woodward had several digital learning days for bad weather, but there was no rehearsal for what the world is currently going through.

“The students and parents were beginning to experience a weariness from the tedium, but they were troopers and stuck with it,” he said.

The lacrosse team was on the field when they learned that school was going to be online-only and they had a hunch that they wouldn’t be returning to campus.

“We used that opportunity as a chance to say good-bye,” said Gulley. “There were hugs and high-fives … and tears.”

The school has chosen to hold an in-person graduation ceremony on July 25, but summer camps will be in cyberspace.

“We’re focusing now on reorganizing for next year,” said Gulley. “What the world will look like then is still heavy on everyone’s mind.”

Fun facts about Woodward Academy Class of 2020 by the numbers

12 — students recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation

3 — National Merit finalists

1 — National Merit semi-finalist

50 — students graduating summa cum laude,

38 — students graduating magna cum laude, and

38 — students graduating cum laude

2 — National Speech and Debate Association Academic All-Americans

1st — Boys Basketball State Championship, Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year, and McDonald’s All-American in school history

5 — area/region athletic championships

11 — teams qualifying for state playoffs

1 — Wrestling duals State Championship

1 — Wrestling traditional State Championship

23 — athletes recruited to play at the college level

12 — teams in competition for regional championships or playoffs when the spring season was canceled

5,000-plus — hours devoted to annual service projects

Source: Woodward Academy

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