By Bailey Thorp
In 1987, junior Anita Webster (née Coleman) decided to enroll at Oak Hall School (OHS) after previously attending Southside Baptist Christian Academy. One of the main reasons for the change was to further challenge herself academically. During her time at OHS, she was a member of the cheerleading squad, theatre class, and yearbook. Her favorite senior traditions were engraving her name in the stone near the softball fields and being able to leave campus for lunch. She graduated in 1990 alongside around 20 other classmates.
Going into her first year of college, Webster notes that she had an amazing foundation due to the education she received and study habits that she learned at OHS. She went on to attend Florida State University for her freshman year of college and then transferred to the University of Florida, where she majored in journalism. She wrote for The Alligator and later graduated with her Bachelors in Journalism and Communications. While tutoring for UF, she fell in love with teaching and became an English and Journalism Professor at Santa Fe College. She then went on to receive her masters in English at Georgia Southern University.
When asked what has changed since her time on Oak Hall’s campus, Webster notes that the buildings are getting larger, and that the campus has expanded greatly. Although the campus has grown since 1990, Webster emphasized how the feeling of community still exists. There is still the “Oak Hall Family” that was present in her years at Oak Hall. This “family” was her support system during her three years at OHS and continued to aid and support her even after she graduated.
Her favorite teachers were Eileen McCarthy-Smith, her adviser and English teacher, and Michael Beistle, her theatre, history, and English teacher. Webster recalls an instance of this never-ending support from faculty during her time in graduate school. When she was overwhelmed with the amount of work that she had to complete for her thesis, she ran into McCarthy-Smith. Her former teacher encouraged Webster and gave her a book that broke down the writing process into simpler terms. “I could not have survived the thesis without [McCarthy’s] support,” she said.
This idea of a constant support system and feeling of family that has lasted decades shows just how accurate the Oak Hall mission statement is. The school truly is supportive and welcoming, which was a selling point for Webster. For her, this encouragement in the conservation of the arts is what convinced her to send her daughter Arabella, a talented visual artist, to school at Oak Hall. When looking for schools to enroll her daughter in, Webster was wary of the public school system. “I knew that the Alachua County School system was really not valuing the arts,” she said. She then looked at Oak Hall and was sold on the Arts Conservatory Program and the amount of space and effort dedicated to the arts.
Even though she graduated more than 30 years ago, and the campus has grown, the warmth of the community hasn’t changed. “Even though there have been different policies that have come and gone, that same visceral feeling of community has stayed the same,” Webster noted.