Last week, SMGS held its annual Foundation Day Ceremony. The ceremony featured some inspiring speeches, but perhaps most notable would be the words from alumnus, Mr Jeremy Witherdin.

Jeremy was a boarding student at SMGS, starting in Year 7 in 1998. He graduated in 2004 as the school captain and a two-time Maria Kisich Public Speaking competition winner. He now resides in Jindabyne with his wife and SMGS Visual Arts teacher, Katie Witherdin, and two daughters, Poppy and Holly. Poppy is in her first year in Kindergarten at SMGS.

Thanks to Jeremy, the audience in attendance last Friday were treated to a glimpse of life as a boarding student back in 1998, providing insight into some of our beloved teachers and staff, his hopes for his daughter Poppy’s time at SMGS and some words of wisdom to our student-body.

Jeremy’s address will be remembered by the SMGS community for its authenticity, honesty and passion for our wonderful school.

Jeremy’s occasional address is as follows:

“Good afternoon, my name is Jeremy Witherdin. A little over twelve years ago was the last time I stood up here in front of you, the school community. I was asked to give my final words as school captain, so please forgive me for being a little nervous. In my speech I spoke about life, the book of life, and today I would like to share with you a little of what I wrote back then and how it has affected me and how it became relevant to the person I am today. But first let me share with you a little about my background.

I began my time at SMGS at the end of 1998 as a Year 7 boarder and stayed until my final days as a Year 12 student in 2004. Unlike most, my start to high school wasn’t the most enjoyable. I joined SMGS as a result of a recommendation from a close family friend after I experienced some extreme bullying in my first couple of terms of Year 7 at another school. However it was here that I was accepted by my year group at the time with no hesitation. I wasn’t judged by my ethnic background, my physical appearance or my personal abilities.

I quickly fell in love with the mountains, the surrounding area, the people, the change of seasons and the Jindabyne community. I went through most of my schooling with one of the smallest and sometimes most troubling classes of twelve students. Then, after a year of student exchange in South America, I graduated with one of the largest classes of nearly thirty students.

During my time here I learnt to grow up pretty quickly, particularly as a boarder. From learning how to tie my first Windsor knot, to learning how to use a washing machine and trying to keep my room clean as a thirteen year old boy. There was, of course, a bit of mischief. From planning escape routes after the boarding alarms were set, either through the floor or squeezing out of the windows. (On a side note, I should apologise to my fellow boarders for ironically installing bomb-proof screens to each boarding window only last year.) There was also the undoing of the exit light bulbs at the end of the hallway, sitting in the dark for hours to see how long until we got caught and scaring whoever was on duty. And how times have changed from when I had to collect our dinner, that consisted of two large pots, one with rice and the other with something that looked like a stew, off the back step of the boarding house. I’m sure in no way does it compare to what Troy and Bek and the Rokits team serves up nowadays but, boy, the rice made good balls to bounce across the tables.

Of all my memories, perhaps the most important was the handing down of the golden key, passed from senior student to senior student each year at the beginning of Year 12.

But we were always made to feel at home, even though we never left the school grounds. From the strictest and scariest South African boarding master, Johan Moolman, disciplining with pain and suffering. From either late night or early morning runs to Strzelecki in freezing conditions, to a quick but sharp poke from a cattle prod for simply being out of bed late. He always made it feel like home. Then to Mama Wilson, who was there to help us fight off homesickness from Monday to Friday with her boxer puppy, Roxy. All the while living above five teenage boys. And to her husband Nick who defended us against any intruders.

My time at SMGS wasn’t just about boarding.

I will admit, and am sure some of my old teachers who are here today will also agree, that times did get a little testing and for that maybe now I should apologise, but also thank them for helping me through my time here.

I believe it is the early years of our lives which provide the basis for our future. It is we that must grow within ourselves; we must believe, stand strong, never give up and we must keep focused on the path ahead. You spend so much time with your teachers here and, if you let them, they can have a massive impact on who you become. The school takes great pride in the high achievements of its students, supported by the dedicated staff.

For me, teachers like Mrs West, who tried her hardest to teach me Pythagoras, but ended up teaching me that contributing to the school community as an individual can make such an impact, like volunteering at the school gymkhana on those freezing early mornings. To helping her with the horses on that scary afternoon after being evacuated from school on our first day of term because of threatening bushfires. Sue West always taught me you can help in one way or another. So, Sue, after all your many years of hard work, I wish you all the best with your upcoming well-deserved rest. My musical career was short-lived, with Mrs Sell finding me a job on the sound desk and helping out behind the scenes with any school productions. What she would teach me was that I should have belief and faith in myself to do anything I put my mind to.

Miss Jones, with her spy intel, encouraged my public speaking career that would help me achieve back-to-back Maria Kisich titles and to develop the skills to speak on behalf of the students in my senior years. Miss Jones taught me to have confidence in my own words and conviction in my ideas. Although not a teacher, I’m sure all those whoever needed anything will know nothing would get past Joan Herringer – she was the ‘mother’ of the day school. From bandaging me up, to rushing me to the doctor’s and everything in between. She was always the ‘go-to’ for anything and the reason why my wife Katie found her place at SMGS.

And finally, back to that crazy South African, Mr Moolman. You may find that there is always that one teacher who can change everything without you even realising it! He would change the direction of my education. From reviving my love for rugby union and establishing a junior rugby community with Nick Elliott for us lost boys, to teaching me some of the most important life lessons. Mr Moolman taught me that every person possesses different abilities. He taught me that some have the power to communicate, the ability to respect, the strength to listen, the emotion to love and the pride of being who they are.  These lessons would eventually lead me to the honour of leading our school in my final year as school captain, but they have stayed with me to this day.

Jeremy and Mr Moolman

        Jeremy and Mr Moolman

Snowy Mountains Grammar School has also prided itself on catering for the individual and encouraging its students with a well-balanced and rounded education, but most of all providing opportunity!

As a result of this, I made the decision to stay and settle in Jindabyne. A community that has offered so much to me, both as a student and an adult. When it came time to make decisions about my own child’s education, it was easy!

We didn’t choose to send our daughter Poppy to SMGS because we wanted her to be the next elite athlete, the next Einstein or even the next Picasso. We chose to send her here for the acceptance, love, support and environment that will allow her to develop into the best ‘Poppy’ she can be! And fortunately, from previous experience, I know that this is the best place for her to ‘let her light shine’.

So she, like all of you, can become the best person she can be under the guidance of some of the best educators, mentors and buddies in one of the most unique school environments.

May she be allowed to explore, challenge herself and, most importantly, belong, just as I did many years ago.

I would just like to thank you all for inviting me here today to speak on the school’s Foundation Day. A day that we reflect on the history of the school. A day where we revisit some old memories from past students and teachers but, more importantly, look to the future with all of you to learn, to respect, to build and continue the great legacy and community that is Snowy Mountains Grammar School. I would especially like to thank all the teachers past and present. For all the love and support of my parents and close friends. But most importantly to my wife, the most extraordinary Art teacher, Mrs Witherdin, and my two beautiful girls, Poppy and Holly.

For me my most significant memory was delivering my final speech as school captain. I would now just like to share part of that speech.

Do you ever feel like your life is planned? Each day already laid out in front of you? As most of you would know, the life of a school student doesn’t always go to plan. The reason is because school and life is unpredictable.

For it is the book of life, the book that can tell you the answers to this question and it is you who plays the main character. It is you now who must be strong and believe that your life is a bestseller. It is you who has so many positives. For what you leave behind is the only thing people will remember you by. So you want to be remembered as the person who achieved great heights, while maintaining the respect of others and by having pride in what you have done.

It is now, the early years of your lives, which provide the basis for your future. And you must now focus on the most important things. But what are they? Is it the happiness of completing Year 12 and finishing school forever? Is it becoming the proud owner of your own business in Jindabyne? Or is it simply returning home to your family and the end of another busy day?

It’s about accepting different challenges which you will face and not letting fear stand in your way. Once you have conquered some of these challenges, you are bound to find some hidden qualities, which will lead to some great and rewarding responsibilities. The ending is forever unknown, but it is the book of life that’s nothing without you, because you are the key character. So until that final day comes, you are the one who must make the decision as to how that final chapter will end.

Life may seem unclear right now, but one day you will see – that all that came before was meant to be.

God or some other mighty being wrote the book that is your life. That is all you need to know.

Each day that you are living was written long ago. God only writes bestsellers, so be proud of who you are, for your character is important. In this book you are the star.