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Woodsville Senior Committed to Graduating With Her Peers

  • Travis Stoddard, of Woodsville, N.H., embraces athletic director Mike Ackerman, of North Haverhill, N.H., in the traditional shaking of hands with each graduate of Woodsville High School before their graduation ceremony in Woodsville, N.H., on Saturday, June 9, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hunter Tatro, of Woodsville, prepares for his graduation ceremony in Woodsville, N.H., on Saturday, June 9, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Students of Woodsville High School prepare to undergo their graduation ceremony in Woodsville, N.H., on Saturday, June 9, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • EmmaLee Smith awaits the start of the Woodsville High School graduation ceremony in Woodsville, N.H., on Saturday, June 9, 2018. Smith plans to attend Northern Vermont University where she will study exercise science. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, June 09, 2018

Woodsville — After the speeches and award presentations, after the 63 Woodsville High School graduates hurled green and white caps into the summery blue sky, after they marched off the grassy King’s Plain to a solemn recessional by the school band, one graduate, EmmaLee Rose Smith, stood in the shade of a row of beech and maple trees at the edge of the field and talked about what it all meant to her.

“It feels … normal. Normal, yeah,” Smith said. “Graduation, although it’s a step you must take, it’s something that everyone does and goes through. So, while it’s a big milestone, it was always coming.”

But for Smith, the simple act of graduating alongside her Woodsville peers was anything but a sure thing.

Her low point, she said, came one day during her freshman year, when she packed all of her worldly possessions into a couple of trash bags and brought them onto the school bus.

“I had to tell a teacher I had nowhere to go after school,” Smith said. “I was considered homeless for a month.”

Smith says her family crumbled beneath the tremendous stress caused when a severely debilitating illness struck her mother, who had been supporting the family with a nurse’s paycheck. At times, Smith had to help her mother to get off the couch, or to shower. She couldn’t work, and lost her job. Soon after, they lost their home, too.

Smith’s mother began sleeping on the couch of a friend’s house. Smith moved in with her father, but their personalities clashed. That’s what led to the 14-year-old Smith’s homelessness.

Because of the family’s instability, Smith kept transferring from place to place — by the end of her freshman year, she had taken classes at three different schools in three different states. The frequent disruptions, and the difference in academic requirements between the different states, put Smith behind her peers during her sophomore year, when she began working as a waitress in Groton.

During her junior year, Woodsville school staff told Smith that she hadn’t earned as many academic credits as her classmates, and was technically a year behind. They recommended that Smith enroll in an alternate educational program, which would be an easier path to completion.

To Smith, it felt hugely unfair.

“It means you wouldn’t graduate on stage,” Smith said. “I’m not dumb. I never failed a class. I didn’t deserve that path. ... I just had to move a lot for family stuff.”

Smith said she made a commitment to herself, that she would do what it took to graduate with the students she had grown up with. Making up so much lost ground was an intimidating prospect. But Smith wasn’t intimidated.

“I knew I had the ability to push harder than what they set me up for,” Smith said.

During the graduation ceremony, it was clear that Smith wasn’t the only student at Woodsville who pushed hard, and learned valuable life lessons.

Class valedictorian Kiara Reagan, salutatorian Alyssa Prest, class president Lillian Kinder and class vice president Charlotte Hickey were among the graduates who received multiple awards and recognition for their considerable achievements, during an awards presentation ceremony presided over by school Principal Eric Chase and Dean of Students Michael Strauch. And during their addresses to the estimated 400-plus crowd, the student speakers emphasized the value of ambition and drive, themes common to high school addresses in the years since the school was first built on the site, in 1914.

“My dad has always said: ‘Why not you?’” said Reagan. “Why should any of us not be successful, fulfill our dreams, and live an extraordinary life?”

“We learned about hard work, failure, and success,” said Prest. “Whether it was struggling through chemistry or excelling in a favorite subject, life lessons were learned. ...When you set goals, choose the ideal life you want to live and work toward it.”

Because of her own life experiences, Smith has learned a similar lesson, but with a twist: a level playing field is hard to come by with all the uncertainties — so all she can rely on is herself.

“It’s really just a matter of, if you’re going to push yourself or you’re not,” she said. “If you’re not, you’re not going to go anywhere.”

Smith said she’s come out of her turbulent adolescent years stronger, and smarter, than she would have if she faced no adversity. “I’ve adjusted from environment to environment, over and over,” she said. “Whatever the situation is, it’s easier for me.”

For her final semester at Woodsville, Smith had to take and pass seven classes to ensure that she would graduate with her peers.

“I’ve never gotten straight As before, but I told myself that I was going to get them this last semester, because I can,” she said. “And I did.”

In the fall, Smith said she plans to pursue an exercise science degree with a focus on strength and conditioning at Northern Vermont University, after which she plans to begin a career as a personal athletic trainer.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

Woodsville High School Class of 2018:

Joseph Eden Aldrich; Zabrina Maria Ball; Suzanne Faye Bazzell; Else Anna Bielarski; Kirstyn Rachelle Binford; Julian Richard Bushey; Zoie Jacalyn Butler; Kera Shayne Butson; Ryan Jay Campanirio.

Arianna Kealey Cassidy; Domenico Dant’e Castaldi IV; Adam Richard Cataldo; Molly Jo Clough; Ryan Alex Colby; Maggie Elizabeth Daly; Cooper Michael Davidson.

Nicholas Stanley Deblois; Emma Louise Drew; Roderick Paul Emley; Cameron Howard Fortier; Kendra Lauren Grant; Seth Hannett; Gabrielle Ellena Harris; Tyren Michael Hartford; Dakota Rey Hernandez.

Charlotte Angeline Hickey; Kaitlyn Pearl Hilder; Kasi Marie Hill; Myles Riley Horton; Cheyenne Elizabeth Hurley; Adam Joseph Johnson

Lillian Dunham Kinder; William Nelius Laauwe; Clowee Breanne Lafreniere; Kyleigh Marie Lamarre.

Cassidie Autumn Lang; Theresa Lin; Juliana Flint LoCascio; Aaron Kristopher Marro; Emily Rose May; Seanon Marshall Gorman May; Morgan Ellyson McHugh; Jack Charles O’Brien; Garrett Michael Olsen; Chelsea Marie Paye.

Michael James Pierre; Timothy Carl Poitras; Alyssa Skye Prest; Abbigail Rose Pugh; Kiara Althea Reagan; James Cantu Roberts Jr.; Wyatt Shane Rodger; Ashley Rowley; Thomas Virgil Mitchell Salyers; Ethan Christopher Sanville.

EmmaLee Rose Smith; Travis Edward Stoddard; Donald James Taber; Hunter Allen Tatro; Brian Keith Thibedeau; Koby Mikael Thomas; Morgan Estella Tripp; Taryn Marie Wright.