When your words are lost, there is always the music. This chapter of my life would have been nothing without your presence and your lessons, Wil Smith. I will be forever be grateful for your guidance, spirit, your damn good dance moves and a soul that touched everything that it came into contact with. It remains shining brightly through this grey day.
I could write so much, but I let the music speak to one of the most special humans I had the honor of calling a colleague, a friend, a mentor and an individual that never quit. I promise to never quit. May you rest in the peace you so desperately fought for. To all of my Seeds community near and far, let us love harder today. Let us reflect. Reach out. Let us honor a wonderful human whose legacy will forever live though us.
Today my heart is broken, my soul is broken. I have lost a friend, a colleague and a great Human. Wil Smith: you shared your boundless joy, energy, and passion with everyone at Camp and beyond. You left us so soon. The compassion and Love you shared will remain in our hearts. Thank you for the gift of your life. May the Lord Bless You.
Luke (American Seed)
To someone who inspired me to be better than I thought I could. To someone who always new what to say when you were down. To someone who hoped for a better world. To someone who believed in peace. To someone who’s legacy will continue to inspire Seeds. To someone who turns Seeds into trees. To someone who led by example. To someone who will always be remembered. To Wil Smith. Rest In Peace
Shira (Israeli Seed)
A hero. Wil Smith is a hero. The mentor, the leader, the father of Seeds of Peace family. Wil, I think you even didn’t know my name. But I wish that you had known about the huge impact that you had of me. Every morning, noon and evening, you were there to encourage me and to remind me the reason for me being at the Camp, how important is to make connections with the other, reminded me the reason for being a Seed. At the end of the Camp, you made me understand what is the Seeds family. The biggest and the most loving and accepting family. This family will never be the same without you. You taught me that it is OK to be me. You taught me that it is good to love the ones that you were taught to hate. You taught me to accept myself. You gave me the power to keep doing the best I can to reach peace and justice, despite the tough reality. Heaven got a hero today. Camp will never be the same without you. You inspired me, and still inspiring me, and you will forever be a model for me—for being a leader. The braveness, the power to overcome the hate and make friendship with the “other side”. I’m so lucky that I had the chance to meet Wil. I’m so lucky that I met a hero.
Hashem (Palestinian Seed)
Today, I lost a mentor, a role model and an inspiration. Wil Smith, may your soul rest in peace. In these hard moments, I can’t help but remember that a sun that helps thousands of suns rise never dies. You left a mark on every Seed’s heart, and your spirit will guide me through the rest of my journey. You may live inside all of the Seeds with your words, lessons, and the one-thousand watt smile. To my Seeds of Peace family, stay strong. Let’s keep Wil’s legacy, and use his impact on our lives to change the lives of many around this world.
Omar (Egyptian Seed)
Wil Smith, I still remember your words to us at the last day. Everyone was crying and sad that they would leave this camp, but then came his words so wise and sure that he would see us again. “I would want to keep you with me to protect you from this world, but here comes your jobs you have to go out to this world to change it to the better.” Rest in peace. Rest in the peace you have always tried to plant in this world. You are in a better place am sure.
Isaac (American Seed)
The first speech I heard Wil say stuck in my head for hours until I could finally scribble it down in a notebook. Wil took to the front of line-up, as usually, and said, “Why are you here? My people can’t come here. We don’t have the opportunity to, but you have the chance to be here. So why waste it? Create opportunity for others by making the most of your experience here.”
This stuck with me all throughout Camp, and certainly in my life now. Why take something special for granted instead of making the most of it?
The last thing I ever heard Wil say was when he was encircled by his friends, campers and family. Wil said, with a tear in his eye, “Welcome to the Seeds of Peace family.”
And know in your time of remembrance, your uncountable family members spread all throughout the world cherish the time they had with you, and realize you didn’t end a journey with those last few words, you created a new one. Thank you for everything Wil Smith, you’re one of the true heroes in this world. I have no doubt you’ll rest Peacefully.
Fatima (Pakistani Delegation Leader)
I am so sorry for this tremendous loss! My heart goes out to Wil’s family, friends and colleagues. I was a DL in 2007, I still remember his energy and spirit!
Susan (Seed Parent)
When you send your children out into the world, you hope and pray that the people they choose to look up to and allow to influence them are good, solid role models. I am proud that both of my sons had Wil in their lives. Our prayers are with his daughter Olivia, his family, and the entire Seeds of Peace community.
Yasmine (Jordanian Seed)
I remember the talk that Wil gave us on the first days of Camp, a very strong talk to all us campers filled with optimism and excitement for the weeks to come; meeting new friends playing sports engaging in dialogue. He shook us with the reality in how we have a responsibility as agents of change as the leaders of tomorrow. To this day, eight years later, this talk still resonates. It affected me majorly. I am today working towards change at a Jordanian NGO called the Business Development Center and I will always remember Wil he was incredible in every way, he was a leader, a motivator and touched our lives in ways that are showing and will show in our present and future. May you rest in peace, my thoughts and prayers go to his family, friends and fellow Seeds.
I got off the bus the first day of Camp petrified. I spent most of the first night tossing and turning in bed. The next morning, Wil stood in front of all of us and began talking. All my fears subsided. He told us the next 4 weeks would be difficult, but well worth it. He also told us he knew we could handle it and that he believed in us. In that moment, I knew he would always be there for me if I needed anything whether that be in the next few weeks or the rest of my life. Each morning Wil exclaimed it was a “beautiful Seeds of Peace day” and in doing so, the day became beautiful. Wil embodied what Seeds of Peace is.
Rebecca (American Seed)
A few weeks later, I was struggling in dialogue. Whatever was supposed to click wasn’t, and I really just hadn’t had my lightbulb moment. Camp was going to be over soon, and I was scared I would leave without experiencing a change within myself, that I was supposed to find at Seeds. I was sulking in a chair one day after lunch, and Wil saw me sitting there. He came over and we began talking. I expressed my concerns, and once again, he successfully calmed me down and made me believe in myself just as he had that first day. Of course, later that day, I had my lightbulb moment, and the first person I had to tell was Wil. Wil inspired so many of us, and the world is a better place because of him.
“Do whatever you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are.” Wil Smith, may your soul rest in everlasting peace, for ever there was a soul more deserving. Thank you for your inspiration, your love and your commitment to good. Because of you, every single human that encountered you has become a better person.
Moose (Egyptian Seed, Staff)
Wil always had a smile on his face. He always knew what to say and when to say. He fought for himself, his family, and us. Every seed that came to Camp, Wil fought for. He fought for us to see a new reality, to experience a moment where there is peace between us, as people from different places at Camp. Wil knew what we felt, he saw through our suffering and hoped to show us ways and guide us towards releasing that suffering. Wil has always been a powerful mentor and brother, his words influenced every aspect of Camp. His emotions over flowed into us through his eyes, he loved us like we were his own family, and we are his family.
I am grateful to have gotten the chance to work with Wil directly as part of the leadership staff at Camp in 2014, his presence, even though he was struggling, graced us in moving forward with creating our Camp experience.
Wil’s legacy will live as long as we as Seeds keep it alive. I am sure he would want us to celebrate his life, by doing what we can do best, and that is work towards achieving our goals and dreams.
I will always carry will in my heart, his love and lightness is forever empowering me.
May his soul rest in peace!
Alina (Israeli Seed)
When I was 14 I got an amazing opportunity to join an outstanding organization that changed my life Seeds of Peace. I have met many great people on my Seeds journey over the years and they have changed me and shaped my fate.
One of the most powerful memories I have from my first year at Camp is driving around the filed with Wil Smith while he as trying to console me. At that point I was a lost child who could not deal with being so far from my home an my family. Wil told me his life story and listened to mine and the time we have spent together helped me find a second home at Pleasant Lake and create a second family—my Seeds family.
To this day I have no doubt that if I didn’t touch the Camp grass with my bare feet, if I didn’t sleep in Bunk 12 (two years in a row), if I didn’t swim in Pleasant Lake and if I didn’t share that summer with Wil, my life would have been completely different.
I hope he knows how much he’s missed, how many lives he helped change for the better, what an amazing teacher he was and what a memorable mentor.
Wil, I hope it’s not to late to say thank you for everything.
Faris (Jordanian Seed)
How is it possible that such a peaceful, legendary, inspirational existence departs our world just like that and so suddenly? It happens when a great role model passes away after having touched each and every soul of his beloved seeds.
Wil was a person with a message of peace and thanks to you, Wil, that message has been reborn and nourished widely. Not many others had the ability of spreading this message as widely and deeply as you did.
Wil, we thank you!
Wil, we admire you!
Wil, we miss you!
But Wil, we will always remember you!
Rest in Peace
Drora (Israeli Seed)
So sorry for the loss of Wil Smith, the one and only. It will never be the same without him watching us. Inspiring us. Seeds of Peace is now like a bunch of orphans. We will cherish our memories with him and try to go on fulfilling his dream.
Nurse Beth (Staff)
Wil was a special person who was able to share his soul and heart, to send out his wonderful energy to so many. In that way, he will never be gone from us. Keep in you all that he taught you and pass it on. Smile and laugh while remembering his special ways that are dear to you. If we can do this, we will keep his spirit alive. My heart goes out to all of you.
Wil lives on in the memories of so many people around the world. In these memories there is not only comfort, but wisdom—lessons that will stay with each of us for the rest of our lives. In remembering Wil, I learn that strength and determination are made meaningful through compassion and hope. I learn that there is real power in kindness. And I learn to approach life with a sense of playfulness and an appreciation for mischief.
Thank you, Wil. We love you.
Melinda (Seed Parent)
When my son was a Seed, he would not infrequently be asked to leave Dialogue for aggressive behavior and an attitude adjustment. His consequence was a talking to by Wil while riding around Camp in a golf cart. I began to believe that my son was creating excuses for temporary dismissal for the joy of the “consequence.” What do you believe?
Eliza (American Seed)
Somehow Wil always knew exactly what to say at exactly the right time. I remember he was once addressing us, after we had been at Camp for only a few days. Dialogue had been rough, lots of arguing and yelling and crying. Wil reminded us that we hadn’t come here to scream at each other, that with technology we could just scream over a meaningless screen. But he reminded us that we hadn’t chosen that path, that we had chosen to come to Camp, and because of this we had a responsibility: to listen, to empathize, to try and understand each other. This is one of the most important lessons I was ever taught.
He’s one of the wisest, most dedicated people I’ve ever met, and he made us feel worthy and capable. He showed us the potential we have to do something meaningful with our lives and inspired us to work together for a better future. He reminded us how lucky we were to be at Camp.
Wil, I know your legacy will live on for many years to come because you were a truly exceptional and incredible person. Thank you for showing us what we can do, for reminding us not to give up, and for greeting us all with a patient and kind smile everyday.
I hope wherever you are there is another beautiful Seeds of Peace day awaiting you.
A bright light, a brilliant light, a consistent light with such laughter, wisdom, integrity, strength and care. I can still see him during opening days of Camp—I loved the name that tune part of the orientation because he would just laugh and laugh. I think that smile will live forever. Whether you knew Wil for a summer or for a lifetime, he was sure to have touched you in a deep and meaningful way.
I think Leslie said it beautifully—the world, all of us have lost one amazing human today—and in our hearts we carry a little bit of Wil, the moments that he taught and touched us, made us push a bit harder, reminded us to keep our focus on what really matters, offered encouragement, inspiration, a hug or a knowing smile.
He was one I could count on at Camp and would go to when I needed support—he was always there, with a hand on the shoulder, with care or some action to help out. He was also a big part of the Maine Seeds community and as a Mainer I was always grateful for the care and pride he put into it. I know that there are so many communities who feel this way about Wil—Seeds of Peace, Bowdoin, Berkshire Schools, McCauley etc., etc. the list is long and the hearts touched are vast.
Wil and to all of Wil’s family near and far—my many deep prayers of solace are with you during this very difficult time. A million tears fall across the globe today with you at this news and so many lives are better for his having lived.
May your spirit be peaceful and free Wil. May the love you shared last in each of us for a lifetime. Thank you seems to fall short in expressing all you gave in such a short time. I promise to keep dancing, laughing, connecting and reaching and working for peace—just as you did.
Lauren (Maine Seed)
It didn’t take long for Wil and I to discover our mutual passion for the game of basketball. As Camp progressed, we talked about it more and more, which resulted in us bantering back and fourth about who had the best jump shot. Although we never got the chance to play out our little competition to see who really was superior, each time we saw one another we took the opportunity to assert our playful “I’m better than you” mentality. After my time at Camp ended, I came back to visit every summer, and each year the first thing he’s say when he saw me was “look at that, the second best jump shooter.” I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have met him, and will always value the little competition we had.
Farah (Egyptian Seed)
“Do whatever you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are”
Today the Seeds of Peace family lost its dearest leader. No one of us can express into words the shock and the sadness we had when we heard the news. Today the world lost a very pure, strong, and encouraging soul that inspired all those around him with the simplest words. He had been fighting cancer for the past three years; however, he did the impossible to be in Camp every summer. He said that we were his medicine, Camp was his medicine.
Wil Smith influenced each and every one in the Seeds community in one way or another.
Thank you for waking us up every day at Camp with your loud voice, and thank you for the inspiring speeches you made every day that kept all of us strong. Thank you for making us trust the process and influencing us.
Today the sun shines, but it shines a little less brighter. Today is a ‘beautiful Seeds of Peace day,’ but a little less beautiful.
May your pure soul rest in peace, and may your legacy continue to live.
It was a privilege and honor for me to be able to know Wil and to consider him a friend.
I will always remember having coffee with him every morning before line up. We shared many laughs and I learned a lot about him during our conversations over the years. What a wonderful person. As so, so many others I am very saddened that Wil has left us even though I know he is looking down and giving us strength.
RIP my friend.
Amy (Maine Seed)
I went to Camp with a heavy heart and only a spark of hope. The rest of the world was too cruel, and too harsh to handle. Wil was the first person I said hello to, and the last person I said goodbye to every time I would come and go from Camp. He took my spark of hope, and set it into a raging fire.
That was his way. He set fire to the last bit of light inside of you, and fanned that infectious positivity until you wanted to engulf the world in light, and a settled peacefulness.
Without Wil, I would not be the person I am today. It is with great love that I thank him, and great sadness that I bid him onto his next journeys.
Rest in peace Wil. Thank you for always inspiring us. Keeping you with us in our hearts.
Mazin (Maine Seed)
Rest in peace to the only person I ever knew in my life the who stayed positive during all the hard times he had in his life. This man was fighting cancer for years and whenever I see him, I see him smiling no matter what the circumstances are. He’s one of the only people who got my name right away and called Mazin throughout Camp. Although it’s sad that we lost him, we shouldn’t forget what he always taught us to always look at the bright side. Starting today, us Seeds will relive and carry on the legacy of Wil Smith, that is Seeds Of Peace. You will be missed and in all of our hearts. انا لله وانا اليه راجعون
My first summer at Camp, I had the opportunity to be a Color Games coach, which took me far outside my comfort zone. When I was feeling overwhelmed and questioning what I could bring to the role, Wil took me for a ride on his golf cart at just the right time. He explained to me that there are all kinds of leaders, that our campers need all kinds of leaders, and that I was chosen for a reason.
Thank you, Wil, for helping me know that I can, for inspiring me to stay strong. Thanks for bringing just the right words to this moment and so many others when the roads are unclear and the challenges seam monumental. Your words, your passion, your inspiration live on in a million future leaders.
Helen (Jordanian Seed, Staff)
To Wil, to the person who touched my soul, to the person who inspired me. My experience at Seeds of peace wouldn’t be the same without you. I will always be grateful that I have met you in my life. You will always be remembered in my heart.
You affected me so much and when I wake everyday in the morning I look to the wall next to me with pictures of people who inspired me and I see your picture, and I remember your smile, your words, everything about you, and I would simply smile. No words can describe how much I love you and am thankful to have met you.
For the first time I knew how it feels to lose a friend and a teacher. My mind is telling me just to smile and accept that Wil died today and just remember him with his smile, but I can’t. I have been trying all day to hold my tears but while writing this I can’t. I wish I told him how much he meant to me and how much I’m thankful to him. There is so much I wanted to tell him and still learn from him.
When people ask me about someone who inspired me, I would say Wil Smith and I smile and just thank God I have met him. I’M SO LUCKY to have known such an amazing person.
From you camper who will always consider you a role model.
Mujib (Afghan Seed, Staff)
Beyond that fact that I had only one change of shoes and they smelled awful, there are very few things that I remember from my first summer at Seeds of Peace, in 2002.
But I remember this face. This huge, ear-to-ear smile. I remember him from the boys’ dock. Because we were among the few who had never learned how to swim, we were always at loss of what to do during that period. And many days, Wil—who was the Head Male Counselor at the time—would be there, wearing his shades, hugging his clipboard, his back to a tree, trying to make conversation with us.
I didn’t understand much of what he said—my English was awful—but I remember him making me laugh. And I remember photographing his laughter, with the disposable camera we were given. A picture that is somewhere in my Seeds album.
Then I forgot his name, like I forgot the names of many people from that summer. But I remember asking a Seeds friend in mid-2000s: where is that head male-counselor with the big smile—what was his name?
I only realized the full extent of how special, how gifted the man was during the past three summers that I was on staff at Seeds of Peace and worked closely with him. He was a fantastic listener, a true embodiment of that core skill Seeds of Peace tries to inspire. He was a man of few words, but in those words he showed you that he had listened. And so should you. He was just a firm believer in giving every young man and woman that walked through those gates as much space as they needed to figure it out for themselves, to dig deep within themselves and trigger some reflection that might not bear immediate results, but is bound to at some point.
Perhaps, it will be this last vivid anecdote, from 2014, that I will remember him for. Because in it, I see his deep consciousness of what he was doing, and how much he enjoyed doing it.
I was walking back from PS dialogue in the Trophy Room and he stopped his golf cart and called me over. His voice was so soft that I almost missed his call. Most of the times we discussed PS stuff would be when my co-facilitators were around. The times we talked alone were usually about Afghan Seeds.
“I just saw something amazing,” he said, with that huge smile on his face, as I approached him. He had just driven by the soccer field. Chasing after the ball were ten boys. And one small, head-scarf-wearing girl.
“Guess what delegation that young girl was from?” he said.
Most of the summer, he was in pain. And it pained us to watch him that way. In that conversation, his words were drained of energy (he was doing long hours of chemo), his syllables stretched a bit. But his eyes. There was this deep sense of peace, contentment in his eyes. At peace with the mountains he had climbed in his life, and the paths he had helped thousands of others chart for themselves.
As Orlando J, always reminds the PSs, “legacies are roads left paved for those that will follow.” And the road he leaves behind—a tremendous, beautiful one.
Rest in peace, Wil Smith
Ophir (Israeli Seed)
Wil Smith changed my life. When I was a camper in Seeds of Peace international Camp back in 2009 and a PS two years later, he was an assistant camp director. Dialogues were tense, and it seemed that there is no hope for any achievement when two contradicting narratives—Israeli and Palestinian—come together to share opinions.
But Wil refused to let us give away. He told us, in the peak of the tension: “Try to experience it through your own eyes. Not through your other delegation members or the people back home. At the end, you’ll see what you’ve come up with”.
Wil taught us to be independent. To always question, and enable ourselves to open up. To not surrender to social pressure—to what other people think you should believe in.
“Those of you who feel the need to reach out for a friend every time that you feel uncomfortable that’s the battle—go to that uncomfortable area, try that for a day and it will get easier the next day.”
Wil, I promise you I will fight this battle every day.
Rest in peace.
Ruba (Jordanian Seed)
Neither my mind or my heart are able to believe this. How come such a beautiful soul leave us?
Today, we also lost a father, a brother, a leader and a very caring—best kind—of friend! And humanity definitely lost him.
In 2008, when I was hugging you on the step of the bus, I promised you I’d be back to Camp in two years. And I was. I found you and said, “I told you I will be back—I keep promises.” Now if I return, I won’t find you. I will not be the same without you.
Please tell all the new Seeds about him. Show them videos of him speaking at line up. Make them feel Wil is there. Please. That’s a very big part of the experience that they shouldn’t lose.
May your very beautiful pure soul rest in peace. I promise you to make the world a better place. I give you my word, friend.
Losif (Cypriot Seed)
I have vivid memories of Wil. I can not say that I new him well as a person, but I admired his dedication, fairness and strong will. A sentence spins in my head, when he asked me one day at camp “What’s your name?” I replied, “Joseph … what’s yours?” “Wil Smith—the ‘real’ Wil Smith!”
Rest in Peace Wil!
I have never met anyone who has had such a profound impact on so many people as you have, Wil Smith. I feel fortunate to be one of thousands of people who has been changed by your wisdom, passion and dedication. Thank you for inspiring and challenging us to be the best version of ourselves. Although you are no longer here, you continue to live within each and every one of us. Say hello to the field for me and thank you for all you have done and all you will continue to do for the Seeds of Peace community. You truly are an inspiration and will be missed by so many.
Noor (Jordanian Seed)
There are no such words to describe your loss, Wil. You were and still a mentor, an inspiration and a member/friend of my second family, Seeds of Peace. I know you will be resting in eternal peace because you were the true definition of peace. You taught me and other 5,000+ Seeds over the many past years the meaning of hope and the power of believing in something. In 2009, when I was getting on the bus with tears pouring down my eyes as I was saying bye to my new family and the Pleasant Lake, you were standing on the steps and you said to me “I’ll see you next year Noor,” and you did. I came back because you believed in me and I believed in your words, and I won’t forget them. I remember when I was a PS, I was feeling sad as I was thinking about how when I come back home this whole believing in the power of change and the possibility of peace might just go away. So I sat with Wil during the Sea Dogs game, and he embraced me with his warm inspiring words and his courage and he told me: “Noor you can make of and live your life the way you want it to be, it is not going to be easy, but I believe in you.” And now, anytime the world seems dark I remember him and I become hopeful again. Thank you Wil.
Gabriela (Maine Seed)
Today, you are no longer with us in the physical world. We have been honored to have loved you, be inspired by you, learn from you, and so much more. We gained remarkable courage and strength in times of need, we laughed more, we loved more, we gained the ability to see the world more beautifully, all because of you. You brought compassion, love and patience into this world. We did not lose you. We gained you; the gift of knowing you. If the sun is shining a little brighter today, I am quite certain it’s because of you. We love you Wil Smith.
Nadine (Jordanian Seed)
“It’s another beautiful Seeds of Peace day,” the sentence that we used to wake up on every morning.
The world today lost a very great person, an amazing HERO, a wonderful, inspirational man who influenced me, taught me so much, and changed my life. You were a great role model to all of us and you always will be. Your great spirit, the positive change you made, and the inspiration you left in our lives will always remain with us.
I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me and words can’t express how much I love you and how much you mean to me.
I feel so honored that I met you, Wil.
May your soul rest in peace.
A Seed of Peace all day, everyday.
“Do whatever you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are.”
To me, Wil was a shining example of what Seeds of Peace signifies—strength and confidence grounded in an abundance of love. To hear of his passing devastated me this morning. Getting him to laugh was one of the most rewarding experiences a Seed could have; with his entire focus on the safety and well-being of the camp, that laugh let anyone listening that all was right in the world. He will be missed, emulated, and never matched.
I was a counselor in the summer of 2007, when Wil was the assistant director of camp. My bunk was rowdy. Every night after lights out, my co-counselor Drew and I let two campers, Shadi and Mahmoud, put on a comic performance. If the performance had been on the radio, most of it would have been bleeped out. Shadi and Mahmoud traded the most absurd, hilarious insults they could think of. They loved each other, of course. They were just trying to make us laugh, and they did. We screamed with laughter late into the night. Drew and I would tell our campers to be quiet, but we said it while we were laughing, in way that meant, keep going.
Wil kept pounding on our cabin door and telling us to keep it down. We would quiet down for a few minutes, and then Shadi or Mahmoud would start again, and Drew and I would become helpless with laughter. One night, Wil burst through the door and marched all of us up to the basketball court. He didn’t give us time to get dressed. Drew and I were still in our boxers.
There on the basketball court at one in the morning, Wil became a drill sergeant. He made us line up. He paced in front of us, saying nothing. Then he told us to get down and give him 20 pushups. He made us do crunches, squat thrusts, pushups again. Drew and I gave up all pretense of being in charge. We’d behaved just as badly as our campers, and we crunched, squatted, and pushed ourselves up alongside them.
Finally Wil told us to go back to our bunk and be quiet. We were. We felt chastened, but also smug. We’d gone through something together, as a bunk, and from that moment on, we were more tight than we ever had been.
What skill Wil showed-—to turn a punishment into a privilege. That night on the basketball court was my favorite night of the whole session, and I know a lot of our campers felt the same way.
Consider this a long overdue salute, Wil. The Seeds community will miss you.
Yazan (Palestinian Seed)
“It’s another beautiful seeds of peace day.” With this sentence Wil Smith—Seeds of Peace’s heart—used to start our days at camp.
Today, I heard some of the worst news ever. Starting with everyone in the Seeds of Peace family changing their profile pictures, talking about Wil, remembering him in their Facebook posts, I knew that something happened to him.
In 2013 I participated in the Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine, where my whole life changed. Wil played a major role in making me a better person, with his words every morning at the line-up, his tips and talks. I remember when he spent two whole hours talking to me when my family had bad times here in Palestine and I couldn’t be with them. Since then, I became another Yazan.
“We need each other in our long struggle, hand by hand we can make a difference.”
Wil, I’ll never forget your lectures, your inspiring words. I’ll never forget you talking to the Palestinian Delegation when we made you sad that day. Please forgive us. I’ll never forget when you forced me to get in the bus. I didn’t want to leave but I had to … I was mad at you.
Today was an ugly Seeds of Peace day. Your body left us, but I’ll feel your soul in everyone from the 5,000 Seeds/leaders around the world. We are your legacy!
Thank you for everything. May your soul rest in peace.
Badie (Jordanian Seed)
I am deeply saddened with this news. He will be truly missed. I will not forget the sound of the Seeds saying on each morning, “Good morning Wil.” We will miss you. Rest in Peace.
Tamar (Israeli Seed)
Wil was an amazing person. While going through pictures and videos about him, I tried to think about what had the biggest influence on me, what I remember really standing out about him. But I realized that it isn’t just one thing, but lots and lots of memories and feelings. He made me laugh at Line-Up, he made me think about who I was and what I was doing at camp in the Dining Hall, he cheered me up when I was down in the Big Hall, he encouraged me and deeply touched me with what he wrote in my scrap book.
Wil was a man who did everything, and that was the most amazing part about him: he was amazing and thoughtful and funny and caring all the time, to so many around him.
Thank you, you will be truly missed.
Samara (American Seed)
Wil always knew exactly what to say during Line Up; he always had such an amazing sense of not only how individual campers were doing, but of what the camp session as a whole was experiencing in each and every moment. It was at the point of camp where things are hard. The excitement of arriving had slightly faded and dialogue was difficult and frustrating. It was on one of these days that Wil gave a speech where he told us to “be ridiculous.” By the end, he was leading a call and response, yelling at us to “laugh, love, smile, and be ridiculous.” He was practically yelling at us to not waste a single moment of our time at camp, to not let a single day go by without doing something crazy, something out of our comfort zone, something silly, something ridiculous. Among many moments with Wil at camp, that is one I’ll never forget. That Line Up speech, to me, is what camp has always been about. Thanks for teaching all of us to never fear the consequences of being bold, jumping into a lake, and being ridiculous.
A few years ago, when Wil wasn’t sure he’d make it to his first day of orientation where he runs his excellent team-building day with others, I was asked to fill in. My fellow staff and I brainstormed all the activities he ran, and pulled through the day. As I told group challenge staff, there are no “magic activities” to help build a team, and it was definitely apparent that day. The magic was Wil—his spirit, enthusiasm, his silliness, his clear focus on the dignity of each person in the room. We missed him then, and we miss him now.
I felt extremely nervous to work on this day, fearing failure in front of a staff that was expecting the magic of Wil. Funnily enough, the only person I wasn’t worried about disappointing was Wil. As I worked with Wil, he always made me feel inspired, capable, and accepted. He is a mentor to a million mentors. Much love to his family for sharing your time with his Seeds family.
Miko (American Seed)
It has been over five years since I was a camper at Seeds of Peace in the summer of 2009. And yet when I learned of Wil Smith’s passing this morning, the memories began flooding back with a force that, I must admit, surprised me.
I never had an extended private conversation with Wil, and I can think of only a couple of times from camp when we spoke one-to-one. But I felt like I knew him well. He was a an incredible force of energy at camp, a guiding light who was constantly pushing us to (as he would say) “do the work” of dialogue. I took that message deeply to heart.
As the associate director of camp, Wil’s presence was everywhere. Whether it was ringing the bell to wake us up every morning, leading lineup, or checking in with us at different activities throughout the day on his golf cart, I always got the sense that Wil was looking out for me. I think that most other Seeds felt the same way. That, more than anything else, is the mark of a great counselor. He gave you the feeling that he had a clear vision of exactly where we were going as a community, even if it wasn’t always clear to us how we would get there.
As a counselor myself now, I appreciate the enormous amount of energy, stability, and care required for kids to buy into that kind of narrative. Wil exhibited those characteristics for every day that I was at Seeds back in the summer of 2009, and he never let us forget to “trust the process.”
May his memory be for a blessing.
Olivia (American Seed)
I don’t know what today holds for the future of Seeds of Peace. I know that during my session, Wil told his story, and changed the way dialogue continued. This was a difficult summer, and we wouldn’t have been able to make the progress we did without Wil’s words.
There was one day that a camper went missing. We had a fire drill to round up the camp together in order to find the camper. We were all quite confused, so we gathered around Wil’s golf cart. He was in tears, telling us they found the camper. He said the idea of losing a camper is like losing a child. He told us how much he loved us and how special we were to him. I couldn’t get over how passionate he was. He made us all feel so special, even when he was upset with us.
Losing Wil is like losing a family member. I’ve never met a stronger man, and it is so sad to see him go. I wish the best for his daughter, Olivia, and the rest of his family. I wish the best for the rest of my Seeds of Peace family. Seeing what is important in life is difficult, but Wil was able to open our eyes. I don’t know one camper whose heart he did not touch. Hopefully we can continue to work towards peace, in his honor. I hope future Seeds learn of his legacy, and that they can find peace even without his inspiring words. But what I do know, is that my session would not have been able to. Thank you Wil, for saving us, guiding us, and making us laugh. You are truly missed.
Sahra (Maine Seed)
I’m deeply saddened for the loss of one of Seeds of Peace’s greatest leaders. I had the amazing opportunity of meeting Wil in 2013 while I was a first-year camper. When I arrived at camp, I has really scared and nervous—I mean like about to puke and cry nervous. But the energy, compassion, kindness, determination, and love that each individual at Seeds of Peace, but most importantly Wil had, made me feel so much better. Getting off that school bus, I had realized at that moment I was going to be okay, and that everything was going to be just fine.
We all live in our own little worlds, and we all have our own struggles that we must go through each day of our lives. But Wil made me realize the true beauty that these struggles come with. The hardships in life give us a chance to be greatly happy for what we have and the people in our lives. Wil made me understand that we are all fighting for peace and equality in a world that is pushing us down at every turn.
Even if he may not have known it, he changed my life over the course of two weeks. I looked forward to waking up every morning during camp to his voice and going to sleep to him coming to each bunk and saying “goodnight ladies” or “goodnight Bunk 7.”
Little moments like those and many more are what made me truly love this incredible man. But I think the moment that I came to truly cherish Wil took place during dialogue one day. I had just left the end of a very tearful, hard, and gut-wrenching dialogue during which I had just shared a very very hard experience at a young age: the loss of a loved one.
I remember getting out of dialogue and just being emotionally drained and not wanting to do anything. Wil as always was sitting in his golf cart next to Leslie’s house and had noticed me. Without saying anything he came up and gave me a hug, saying “You did it. You have just done one of the hardest things to do here at Seeds of Peace.” At that moment, I came to understand that even though I had just endured something really tough, I am stronger and better because of it. I don’t know how I would have been able to keep a smile on my face without those words that he spoke to me that day.
Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart, Wil, for everything that you have done for this family of Seeds. The world is darker because of your absence, but the light and beauty that you possessed will never go, and will always be with every individual that you have touched.
Kalyani (American Seed)
I don’t know what to say so I’ll just try to say it as simply as I can. I think of Wil Smith like I think of Dumbledore. He was a wise, guiding presence in my time at camp. I am extremely honored that I got to be part of that session with him and see him dance and sing on the last day. Since camp, I have told a lot of people about him and his humor and his ability to say the right thing at just the right time. That won’t stop, because everyone should know about Wil.
I had the honor of meeting Wil ten years ago when I was a Camp Counselor. My first impressions of Wil were that he was a genuine people person who had a big heart and an even bigger smile. He also showed tough love at times, never shying away from reminding us (staff) to keep our egos in check, that camp was about the campers and their experiences. When Wil spoke, he spoke with conviction from the heart. Admired and respected, Wil’s a true Seeds of Peace-er through and through, and will be missed immensely by his Seeds of Peace family, and those who have been fortunate enough to know and work with him. We’ll never forget the legacy he left in our community. Thank you for showing us the path, inspiring us to continue as peace builders, and giving it all you have.
After hearing the news that Wil had passed, I spent the day digging through an old trunk I keep buried in my hallway closet, looking for photos from my summer at Seeds. It took me hours to go through all the memorabilia; the camper-signed t-shirts, yearbooks, and color prints.
I reached out to a few dear friends that I made that summer, and we shook the dust off some memories. David Busis and I had a good laugh. I had a nice conversation with Ben Losman’s voicemail. I sent Elisa Davis some pictures.
I only spent one summer at Seeds, but I remember Wil as a man who truly believed in what he was doing; his honesty and earnestness were palpable, especially when he was imploring the kids to “put in the work,” and “make just one friend.” And I truly believe that in many cases, Wil was the reason some of these kids acquiesced and let themselves have that experience. He was born to do this work; he loved it, and he was great at it.
I also made constant (and sometimes unreasonable) demands on behalf of my campers, and I don’t recall Wil ever saying “no” to any of them. He would do anything for the kids; it really was all about them.
My favorite memories of Wil all seem to revolve around this uncanny ability he had to catch me alone and start a conversation about “life.” I’d be walking alone on the lawn before dinner, or he’d scoop me up on the golf cart as he whizzed by, or I’d be walking back to cabin 15 late at night when he was doing his rounds…and we’d be alone, and we’d start talking about “life.” I don’t think he ever prompted this kind of conversation, it just sort of happened. It was the summer before I started my adult life, and things were very confusing for me. Wil was a military man, was already a father, and had put himself through law school, and in many ways, I looked up to him. I was always grateful for his humble wisdom and encouragement.
Like many of the counselors, I stayed behind a week or two after camp to hang out in Maine. Wil was kind enough to pick me up and drive me to the bus in Portland. As we drove into town, he encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a fireman, and told me not to worry about the money; “I have met a lot of rich people, Drew, who are absolutely miserable. Go out there and do what you want to do. Live your life. The rest will take care of itself.”
As I think back on it, getting on that bus to NYC was literally the beginning of my adult life. There are times when it has been difficult, as Im sure it was difficult for Wil. But for the most part, he was right about the joy of doing what you love, and judging by all the people posting on Facebook today, that sacrifice, for Wil, was worth it as well.
Maybe this isn’t the memory most people have of Wil. Maybe he didn’t “talk life” with other people, I don’t know. But he did with me, and it was because he knew that’s what I needed to talk about, and as it turns out, it wasn’t just about the kids for Wil; it was about all of us.
“I am a Seed of Peace.”
Kon (Maine Seed)
I know my time with Seeds of Peace was short, but camp had a big impact in my life. I was a different person and I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t attended camp. I remember during one heated dialogue, I broke out in tears. That was the first moment I learned everything couldn’t be solved with a fight. I was pulled aside by Wil Smith and I shed more tears I told him I wanted to go home.
We spoke and he told me, “Kon you are a leader.” That was the first time anyone has told me that.
“I have seen you with other campers and you’re loved by a handful. The mission of camp is to build on to that leadership to share with your community. Today you learned your weakness and if you leave now you will never know how to defeat it. You know who you are. Don’t allow others to define you. It’s your choice.”
I kept on to those words and the following year I ran for vice president of my class. Many thought I had no chance of winning, but I did and the following year as well. I was student representative for the city council and I served as chair for the city youth council. Wil Smith helped me believe I was a leader and I could do anything I set myself to. I never saw myself as a leader, but those encouraging words, I believed it. I don’t fight with my fist, but with my heart. Thanks to you.
Today, I heard the news of Wil’s passing and my heart goes out to his family and the entire Seeds of Peace family. RIP big guy. Even after your passing you inspire. Thank you.
Aleah (Maine Seed)
Everyone is always looking for more, wanting more. People come to camp looking for different things. They look for answers to their problems and the battles they face everyday. No matter what anyones been through Wil gave them love willingly and equally. We lose ourselves in the things we love and find ourselves there, too. This Wil knew all to well, I believe. As Wil so commonly told me “Everyone and everything has the potential for greatness. It’s the steps you take to achieve greatness that truly matter.”
I came to camp in the hopes that things would just get better, honestly. It didn’t matter then how it got better. I just knew that the world was a cruel and hateful place and I needed somewhere to go that I felt safe. Somewhere that I didn’t feel like I had to fight for even an ounce of happiness. I needed help. I needed to survive. Seeds became more than I expected. Wil was and is the biggest part of my more than life-changing experience.
I’m so thankful for the chance to have that feeling twice. To be able to witness someone so willing to give themselves to others and to everything they did, that was truly remarkable. When someone takes the time to believe in another, when they throw their whole selves into everything they are passionate about. That is real humanity. That is an amazing human being. My heart had a special fondness for Wil. I am so blessed to have been able to call this man my hero. That’s what he is anyway: a hero.
“If we could prepare you for this we would.” Wil touched my shoulder as I sat inconsolable after saying goodbye to my campers for the very first time. That touch meant everything: it meant that even though your heart breaks and it feels like the end of the world, its all worth it because we loved so much in the first place. You did prepare me Wil, that despite this pain right now I am overwhelmed with gratitude for having benefitted from your own personal sun. Always.
Mamoun (Jordanian Seed)
I had to meet Wil in 2007; we meet endless people in our life but very few leave their prints in our hearts. Will is undoubtedly one of those who left them on my heart. I will never forget his beaming smile when he celebrated my birthday in 2007. I really look up to him and his inspiration will live on. You are physically away from us, but you are immortalized in our hearts and minds. You left a legacy that will live on. May God have mercy on your soul.
Kim (Maine Seed)
Although I didn’t talk to Wil very much, the few things that he did say to me are advice I will never forget. Before Seeds of Peace, I didn’t think that I could make a difference. I had told him that I struggled with realizing my potential and what I could do to make my impact in this world. He responded with a simple answer: “You can make a difference no matter what. Even though you are one person, if you try, anything is possible.” He patted me on the back and was gone.
Each day, during line up, he was always enthusiastic and put smiles on our faces. He continuously showed me that I could be more than I thought I could. He taught me that life is what you make of it and what you do for others. Most importantly, he taught me that life should never be taken for granted.
Wil is someone who taught me incredible life lessons, and he will be missed very much.
Maysa (American Seed)
Wil taught me that we only get out what we put in. I follow that every single day, and always try to get as close to “100%” as I can.
Nikkita (Maine Seed)
Wil was a very energetic, passionate man. He made me feel safe at camp and that was one of my biggest fears being with strangers for two weeks. Although I didn’t spend much one-on-one time with him, he made a huge impact on my life just from the words he spoke to all of us. And even with being as sick as he was, he still made the effort to be at camp. I am not depressed that he is gone because I know he is in a better place and no longer suffering. Also I know he made a great imprint on MANY peoples lives and hearts, including mine so he will always be remembered, never forgotten. RIP to a great leader.
Rand (Jordanian Seed)
The world lost a hero and an inspiration. Not only the Seeds of Peace family. Wil has been an inspiration to everyone he encountered, a source of love and care wisdom and fun. When I was at camp I was young, a bit foolish, and I didn’t talk to my family that much. Wil at the time was a father figure. He cared for me (I took a ride in the golf cart too) and he talked to me. He made everything seem better. He allowed me to understand Seeds of Peace better in the few minutes we talked.
May your soul rest in peace and may your love and teachings be in every Seed you have encountered.
My condolences to all Seeds and to his family. He will never be forgotten.
Last October my wife and I did something very out of character for us. We drove out to Western Massachusetts to take a tour of a timeshare community in order to earn a free trip. It was one of those places where some slick salesman spends two hours with you trying to convince you how great the timeshare experience is. We saw it as an opportunity to visit the Berkshires on a fall weekend.
After having the morning taken up with a never-ending sales pitch, we drove over to Stockbridge in need of food and tranquility. It was a particularly crowded day and we parked on the edge of town. As we crossed a particularly busy street on the way into town, I head this bellowing voice, “Hey Sandy!” Now, I am a recent transplant to Massachusetts, Boston specifically, so immediately I am thinking this must be some coincidence and this person is yelling at someone else named Sandy. Who in Stockbridge would know me? As I turn around, in the distance I see that giant Wil Smith grin through a rolled down window.
Wil found a parking spot and we met up on the sidewalk. He explained that he only had a minute to talk because he was on the way to coach his team for their homecoming game. But, in classic Wil fashion, he took the time to catch up with my wife and I without making us feel like we were keeping him from something. He and I reminisced about the only time we were Color Games coaches–Third Session 1999 (Connecticut). We laughed about how when we were coaching against each other we forgot the colors and just coached the kids irrespective of color. Wil seemed tired and much thinner than I had remembered him but his infectious enthusiasm for people and for life was still there. His daughter, Olivia, was in the car and Wil beamed with pride talking about her.
Our conversation finished, we hugged and Wil was gone before we knew it. As my wife and I continued walking to lunch, we both were struck by the strong impression that short, serendipitous meeting left on us. It was a classic Seeds of Peace moment, you know the ones in which everything aligns perfectly without, and sometimes despite, the planning. I feel fortunate to have had that chance encounter last fall and those brief few minutes still resonate deeply for me.
Aanya (Indian Seed)
The first time I saw you was in a video months before I even got to camp. I was told that the man in the dark green Seeds t-shirt, with the sunglasses perched on his head, driving the golf cart and welcoming the buses, was going to have a monumental role in my journey. What they didn’t tell me was that you were going to mean so much more than that. Every morning, we would awaken with the sound of the bell and your loud booming voice shouting, “line up!” When we actually did manage to get ourselves to line up, we couldn’t help wondering what new things you would have ready to say to us that day. You had a gift with words Wil, and your words alone were what kept many of us running. Whether they reminded us to be courageous, compassionate, caring, or considerate, your speeches influenced so many of us. I remember once, after a rough evening dialogue session, I wasn’t feeling up to Evening Activity, and I sat by myself on the corner of one bench, trying to sort out my thoughts and emotions as the other campers came pouring in. You probably had a lot to do that day, and I’m sure we were at our noisiest. Yet, you noticed me sitting to a side, and you came up to me. You told me that you could see that I was smart and strong, and that I could get back up. You also told me that it wasn’t easy, but you knew I could do it. When you told me of your faith in me, it took so little effort to regain my energy. When I saw a smile on your face, I immediately found one on mine. Wil, I would like to thank you for being there for me, always, every day. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for having faith in me. Thank you for reminding me that it will always be a beautiful Seeds of Peace day. Love always.
Obaidullah (Afghan Seed)
Wil Smith was a person who recognized the value in himself and the value in all other humans, and who worked to contribute to all of humanity. He was like a big brother, and I learned a lot from him.
I not only came to love the excitement of learning simply for the sake of knowing something new, but I also came to understand the idea of giving back to the community in exchange for a new sense of life, love, and spirit. Truly, he motivated and inspired us.
One day I came to him and sat next to him, when he was going to ring the bell in the morning, and I asked him: “How would you go about this life?”
And said: “Life has never come easy. Sometimes we fall, we get hopelessness and frustrated. We should struggle against negative points in life.” He told me to “never give up”.
He managed to tell us a good deal about himself, his values, and his goals while maintaining a strong focus throughout.
In him, I saw the firm, enduring qualities of courage, strength, hope, and especially love with the Seeds community.
Emily (American Seed, Staff)
Thank you, Olivia, for sharing your dad with the Seeds of Peace community for so many summers. His patience, enthusiasm, and wisdom were invaluable and are irreplaceable. The Seeds of Peace community is grieving alongside your family. Hopefully this can be some small solace during such an awful time. Wil was a great person who was taken from us too soon. His presence on this earth will be missed.
Leila (Maine Seed, Staff)
Thousands of people around the world are grieving this week. What an incredible person it is who can evoke so much global collective emotion.
The first time I met Wil, the Maine Seeds were in crisis. We were a group of kids with some lofty goals. We were trying to share Seeds’ message with our communities but that was really hard because, 1. the rest of our community wasn’t involved in our process/hadn’t gone to Seeds, and 2. we were severely disorganized and didn’t have many adult allies who were able to support us regularly. We had begun drafting a grant application to put on the first ever: PORTLAND COLOR GAMES! And we received $1,500 for the proposal and we were so pumped, but things kind of stagnated when we didn’t know which direction to go. You know, because we were 16 years old.
Wil introduced himself to me nine or ten years ago as an ally and someone who could be a liaison and offer support. He and I met on a number of different occasions to discuss, schedule, plan, and implement the Portland Color Games. He came over to my house, sat on my couch, talked to my mom, ate our cheese, and listened as we planned the specifics of the event. He didn’t lead the meeting–he listened and offered advice during those, “uhhhh…. what do we do next?” moments. His presence encouraged and challenged us to grow into leaders but we always knew he was there for support. When we suddenly lost funding and had to postpone the event, he called me personally and calmed me down, even though I was kind of inconsolable. The event finally happened and he stepped in when we didn’t know how to introduce anything/were way too awkward/hadn’t actually planned any introduction games because we didn’t have any kind of concept of how to plan and implement an event!
I find myself thinking of random memories of Wil. I definitely remember his lineups and his speeches and everything else he did for the organization and for the kids. But specifically, I’m remembering Wil offering to brush my hair (he said, “You know, you can always ask me to brush your hair. I have a daughter!”), the way his face would light up when he would see Sam and Molly, him catching a frisbee in midair while riding his golf cart, the time we saw a GIANT raccoon in the tree at lineup and he couldn’t stop staring at it, when he’d break out a dance to “Teach me how to Dougie” and danced with Sara, Lucia, and me to Taylor Swift’s “Feeling 22” or jump up on stage to sing “Man in the Mirror.” Man, he was down for a good time and always, always down to support whatever was happening in any given moment. Mostly, though, I remember his smile and just how much love he shared with everyone. And then there was the lineup where he formally announced his cancer to Session 1 of 2012. He said that his doctor didn’t recommend that he come to camp. And Wil told us that WE were his medicine. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so touched.
I trusted Wil and I appreciated him. We had some disagreements and I just wish that I had more time to reconcile with him. Thank you, Wil, for being the adult to reach out to a bunch of aimlessly driven kids. If you hadn’t stepped in, I don’t know if I would have grown into the leader I am today. Maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but I really do credit Wil as the person who gave us direction and purpose. His experiences, passion, and obvious unconditional love transferred into our little 16 year old bodies and inspired potential to action.
My heart goes out to you, Olivia, Maha, and Nimer. Please be well. I’m holding you all and Wil in the light. It is and forever will be a beautiful Seeds of Peace day because of you, Wil Smith.
Patrick (American Seed)
The first time I heard of Wil was when one of the campers in 2007 said that the actor Will Smith would be directing the camp, sparking all sorts of rumors. Even though Wil was not Will, he definitely did not disappoint. His morning motivational speeches in front of the lake each morning were the highlight of assembly every time. He always spoke with such clarity and insight.
One memory in particular I have of Wil is when I went running one morning before anyone was up in the camp. I just wanted to do a couple laps of the big loop through camp. However, moments after I crossed the line on the far side of the loop into the girl’s half of the camp, his bellowing voice telling me to stop where I was made me jump and woke up most of the other campers. He asked what I was doing, saw that I did not have any bad intentions, and let me off with a slight slap on the wrist. I have a lot of respect for Wil and I wish his family condolences in this tough time. Wil touched many lives during his life and you should take comfort in that his memory will live on long after he left this earth.
Nitsan (Israeli Seed)
I can only attempt to put my feelings into words. I remember my first year at camp, on the almost-last night, bonfire night. We sang and cried and you led the evening beautifully. I don’t think I had ever cried as much as I did that night, when you told us you were sick, when I realized how strong you had been for us. That night, I recognized in you that human vulnerability that gets to all of us in the end, even to a hero such as yourself.
In that moment, any sense of innocence left in me after camp was shattered. More so than any dialogue session could have.
Wil, you represented pure good to me, true love and dedication and utter commitment to repairing our world. Until that bonfire night, I had truly believed with all my heart that our lives were ultimately fair. I was so certain that bad things didn’t happen to good people.
I’m not sure if my childish naivety had sheltered me from the unfairness of it all. Or maybe I had never before met such a perfect role model such as yourself.
To be honest, I’m still not sure who to thank for that life lesson.
But I know I can thank you for showing us so much through personal example. For reminding everyone around you that yes, we live in difficult times. Our world is shattered and broken in many ways. But in moments of infinite beauty, when the peace at the heart of our existence is blatantly obvious, people like you lead the way. People like you teach us how to process these moments into determination, and use their energy to guide us in times of darkness. Thank you.
Doc Sid (Staff)
Wil may have been much younger than me, but in my mind he was a father figure right from the start. It took only a few mornings to recognize his special blend of experience and wisdom as he patiently imbued humble values to his flock. Those lineup addresses were the highlight of my camp days. The magical mixture of humor and serious thought spoken at the lakeshore to an audience keened on hearing every word seemed to flow effortlessly from this gentle giant of a man. Many times tears welled up listening to Wil impart simple truths to fertile ears with a delivery that just couldn’t be dismissed. He shared his childhood and personal experiences with all of us as proof that “seeing and learning for one’s self” is a realistic goal, if courage allows. Wil personified being “up to the challenge,” and his spirit and conviction gave us all strength to follow his path. And then there were the hugs each season as we came “home” and again when we left. We must hug one another now and remember Wil in our struggle to make sense out of seeming chaos.
I remember being skeptical of Wil when he was introduced to us at camp as the new associate director. I remember thinking ‘but this is a peace camp, and he’s a military guy …’ or something along those lines. It wasn’t long however, before I actually got to know him through profound conversations (which he always seemed to have the time and patience for), and got to know the person who has touched and inspired so many of us with his enormous heart and incredible intellect. I am filled with gratitude for all he did for us at Seeds (and especially for helping me overcome my own prejudices) and am incredibly sad to learn of his passing.
There’s one memory in particular that comes to me: I believe it was the the last staff celebration of the year and we had assembled all the instruments in the hall and were jamming out, taking turns singing and dancing, basically having a great time, and Wil just jumps right in and grabs the mic to sing what for me is probably the definitive version of ‘I Will Survive’… “as long as I know how to love I know I’ll be alive … ”
May Wil Smith live on in all of us he has helped teach how to love.
The Seeds of Peace family and camp line-ups will never feel quite the same without our beloved Wil Smith. Wil embodied the best of Seeds of Peace and inspired us to be better citizens of the world. Wil was the real deal and his dignity, intelligence, compassion and loving, fun spirit will be missed by the thousands of lives he touched. On behalf of the Seeds of Peace Board, we send our condolences to Olivia, Maha and Nimer. Wil, rest in peace. We love you.
I keep seeing Wil’s smiling face as my mind races back and forth between memory and this moment, trying to incorporate the sad, unreal reality. It’s hard to believe he’s gone, especially as Seeds all over the world swell with love and memories of how Wil Smith touched their lives. Whoever was graced by his presence in their lives, no matter how short a summer, can’t forget the care they felt emanating from him. Wil’s passion, his warmth, his dedication, his steadiness—he was there for the campers, there for the counselors, there for Bowdoin, for kids who needed someone to believe in them, for his daughter. Most of all, I remember Wil as an incredible father, his story with Olivia moving me deeply—I was, and am still, in awe of such love, commitment, and bond. That bond, formed in the mind and heart, is still embodied in Olivia. It is still embodied in the story that touched me, now in my mind and heart. It is embodied by all those who have been touched by Wil—his words, profound, ring out in our hearts; his smile, playful and beaming, in our minds.
I met your Dad in 2000 when we were the facilitators for the first Maine Seeds program. My first impression was – Wow, what a presence this guy has! And what a great smile! We would meet biweekly that year at Dunkin Donuts and plan our sessions. We had such fun! The kids we worked with were wonderful—bright, intelligent and kind. I learned a lot from your Dad. He was so generous with and appreciative of others. Our “planning sessions” would always include talk about our own kids as well. He was very focused on his role as a Dad and what a proud Dad he was!
I am terribly saddened that I didn’t keep in touch. I haven’t been out to camp to visit for about five years. I am thinking that this is one last lesson from Wil. Stay in touch with those folks you care about. It makes me smile remembering he was always a great teacher …
Losing your Dad is really a huge loss for humanity, actually global, given his reach was far and wide. I want to thank you for sharing your special Dad with so many of us over the years.
Here is something that I heard from the Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, in Boston a couple years ago. “When you are reminded of someone you lost, it is that moment that they are there with you.” I hope you find that thought comforting, Olivia. God bless.
Yara (Palestinian Seed)
Even though it was 6 years ago when I last saw Wil, it feels like it was only yesterday I was sitting on the front bench listening to Will’s morning speech to get us going for the day. It’s a tragic loss for everyone that such amazing person is no longer among us. May he rest in peace.
Habeeba (Egyptian Seed)
It is difficult to put into words something—anything—about Wil Smith. Words fall short. I will not try to explain what he meant to the Seeds community or what an inspiring, amazing person he was. Instead, I will share a story.
As a camper, I am incredibly shy. One day, we decide to perform the beloved camp song, “Pizza Man.” Somehow, I end up being the one leading the song. I’m scared to my core. The first few sentences are great, and then I mess up a lyric. Instead of saying “With this basketball in my hand, I wanna be like Michael Jordan,” I say “Michael Jackson.” Everyone laughs, and to someone like me at the time, terrified of big groups, I want to run and hide.
Then comes Wil, running down from Leslie’s porch. He stands in front of everyone, and moonwalks while dribbling. I can’t stop laughing. After dismissing everyone to lunch, he takes me aside and says, “Never be afraid to stand out,” and then walks away …
Meira (Israeli Educator)
Sometimes you know people for a long time and they don’t have any influence on you. Sometimes you get to know people for a short glimpse of time and they change you. Wil was one of those who, despite the short time we knew each other, changed me and made me want to change the world into a better place. What a loss!
Wil was, as he used to refer to me, my friend. He was, of course, so much more than that, but to me he was first and foremost, my friend and I was his friend. We developed a very interesting, deep and temporal friendship–one restricted to summer encounters and yearlong “in heart” friendship.
As he was such a private, self respecting and respectful of others person, we developed our friendship slowly yet grew our friendship into a deeper and more personal one every summer. We shared thoughts and feelings which I know that we shared with very few other people. I know that we grew from mutual understanding, to deep respect, to love.
We bridged cultures, backgrounds, roles and age differences. We shared deeply set similar outlooks on life, on Seeds of Peace, on humanity. We were publicly fairly silent friends, yet we were very deeply, friends. We needed few words to share care and love, to share our love of our dear ones, to reflect upon our lives, to touch hearts and feel fulfilled by enrichment. We openly talked of life and death, pains and joys, frustrations and hopes. As partners we developed individual yet shared codes to describe our understanding as we monitored the subterranean life at camp. We almost always agreed.
I know, and that was part of his greatness, that Wil was a friend of many people, and that with each friend he developed and maintained a special friendship. I deeply cherish his special friendship with me, miss him already, and mourn his departure.
As I write this, I’m aware of how proud I am to have been his friend. That is, of course, because Wil was a great person. One of his special qualities was his ability to be deeply and caringly involved in the micro (a kid “in trouble” at camp, for example) and harness his experiences, listening and viewing into lessons which connect deeply with the macro of “where are we at” (when “we” could be the people of the world, the “state of the nation, the Seeds at camp, or Seeds of Peace as an organization). A fine example would be the wonderful motivational addresses which he presented at morning line-up. However, this ability went much deeper, much wider and often with much less public expression than the line-up. He had a very deep and unique view of the world and of people, based on his life experience, his learning, and his independent mind. Although his outlook was a much more radical one than usually expressed aloud, he always tempered it with humility, humanness, and a keen sense of what should be said, to whom and when. I believe that this wonderful sense was partially a result of being a black person in the US and mostly due to his deep respect for people expressed by the ability to choose to present what might be relevant to the listener and absorbable by her or him at any given time.
In my eyes, Wil was as American as apple pie, an oppressed youth in racist Florida tempered by the Navy and a world citizen wizened by his encounters with other cultures. Though fiercely proud of this rich and varied personal heritage, he was, first and foremost, a man of his own. This made him, on one side, a very socially involved person, and on the other side, a unique “loner”, a “Minority of One” just like the influential yet almost private Washington journal of so many years ago. He was an involved, wise skeptic and a deeply optimistic believer. He was always present, and simultaneously always one step removed from the crowd.
I do not want to go on and laud his praise. The story of his life is a testimony of the man. Other people will tell of his greatness much better than I can. I just wanted to reflect some of what he meant to me, as a partner and as a friend.
I think that for me, the ancient Yiddish expression heralding the peak of lifelong achievements–a MENSCH (formally defined as “a person of integrity and honor” and which informally accents suffering and goodness, hope and realism, personal responsibly and love–suits best to describe Wil. He was a Mensch. A human being through and through. Perfect in being imperfect. A practitioner of “life is with people” and a unique, deeply personal, realistic and humble individual.
Wil, as his name indicates, lived by great willpower. He contributed to make it happen. Quietly, systematically, always dependable he did his best to make it happen. His willpower was always tempered by goodwill, the intent to do well as a growing person and the intent to do Good in this world, to render it a better one for all.
He leaves us a legacy, and more importantly, a will. If you wish it, it is not a legend. And he would I believe quietly add, “not at all costs. The end does not justify all means. The process is as important as the result. People come first. Timing is important, and, you, yes you, make it happen, please!”
In Yiddish, it is expressed as “sleep fast, we need the pillows”. Goodbye my friend. We shall not meet summers by Pleasant Lake again. You will, though, continue to be my all year “in heart” friend.
There is a famous haiku poem:
“The world of dew
is a world of dew
We all know the beauty of life is fleeting, “and yet”, who doesn’t have moments when they wish that the hands of the clock would suddenly stop and start twirling backwards to a time of less sorrow. This is certainly one of those times.
Shai (Israeli Seed, Staff)
When I first met Wil, I was 14 years old. It was the summer of 2002, and he was already clearly a big part of the experience every Seed goes through. Twelve years later, I have the opportunity to grasp just how unique his influence was.
Not often did I get to see someone move so many people with words and spirit alone. As a facilitator, it was hard to miss the presence of his words in the minds of campers during dialogue and all around camp. These words often took them, and me, far and beyond what we’re used to and encouraged us to look in and try hard to experience something new.
We lost a truly inspirational person, and I’m grateful for having the opportunity to see him one more time. He will be missed.
I’m deeply grateful for the privilege of having known Wil Smith. His legacy of love and selflessness is an inspiration. I’ll miss him.
I still vividly remember my first day at Seeds of Peace. I had just arrived for counselor orientation and was new to Seeds of Peace. I was older than most of the other counselors, didn’t know anyone, and was nervous about how I would fit in. Lucky for me, I had arrived just in time for what everybody in the Seeds of Peace family knows as ‘Wil Smith day.’
Wil told us what made Seeds of Peace so special to him and taught us about always keeping our arrows pointed toward our campers. He orchestrated a series of facilitated conversations, group exercises and crazy games (the epic 2011 Song game!). The session made it evident why we are all there and magically and almost instantaneously created a safe, silly, open and collaborative space within which we would become a cohesive and high-functioning staff. A few short hours later, my nerves were gone. Not only did I feel like I had the confidence and tools to succeed as part of the Seeds of Peace counselor team, but I also felt like part of the Seeds of Peace family.
Throughout that summer and over the next three years, Wil inspired all of us. Many of us came from immensely different backgrounds and he brought us together. We wanted to be better campers, counselors and people and he helped us reach our potential. When we had a problem, he had a solution (or, more likely, advice that would help us figure out the right solution). When we needed support, he was there for us. When we deserved praise, he gave it to us. When we could have done better, he reminded us (and the next time around, we were better because of it).
Somehow, he managed to be sensitive but strong; demanding but patient; quiet but a master orator; serious but fun-loving; warm but tough. He was a listener and a leader. It truly seemed like there was nothing he could not do, no hurdle he could not overcome.
Beware of summer camp stories, as they can be fertile ground for hyperbole, but not in Wil’s case. It’s all true, even the stuff that can come off sounding like legend. As in: at age 40, he was the best Dougie dancer in all of Camp; he could hit a baseball farther than anyone else – all the way to the bell. (He was, and he could.)
All of us have treasured memories of ways – a golf cart ride, a knowing glance, a phone call – that Wil touched our lives, so I would like to share some of mine:
-The first day and a half of Color Games 2012 was competitive to a fault, not in small part due to the leadership of the coaches. After lunch on day 2, Wil pulled all coaches aside, firmly reminded us what Color Games was really about and told us we were missing the point. He was right, we knew it and it hurt. But from that moment on, the tone of Color Games changed markedly for the better. We were all better coaches and counselors as a result of that talk and I think that we accomplished what Color Games was meant to accomplish as a result of that moment with Wil.
-The following summer I had a problem dealing with a behavior issue involving a group of campers from a particular delegation that upset me greatly. When I told Wil about it, rather than getting upset with the campers for their behavior or with me for my handling of the issue, Wil gave a deep, almost academic, explanation of what was driving the behavior at issue. He described the mindset of the campers and how certain conflict-related aspects of their lives at home and certain aspects of my approach to the issue were affecting the dynamic. Instead of punishing anyone, Wil made a structural change to the Camp schedule that made the matter a non-issue. Until that moment, I had no idea of the degree to which Wil understood the campers’ (and my) behavior or the nuances of the conflict and how they affected Seeds of Peace’s work. That experience encouraged me to reach out to people from the “other side” and try to understand their point of view in a new way.
-After introducing (my now wife, then girlfriend) June at line-up as my “friend” for a second consecutive summer, Wil sidled up next to me on the way to the dining hall and, with a smirk, told me that if I was planning to introduce June as my friend the following summer, I shouldn’t bother coming back to line-up. I proposed several months later and Wil, even though he was undergoing treatment at the time, called the day before our wedding to send his love. I will always treasure that moment at line-up and that call.
I loved being at Seeds of Peace and I think a big part of the reason for that was Wil’s love for being at Seeds of Peace. When I am standing under the sun next to Pleasant Lake, I will see Wil waving his hands across the sky to draw our attention to the fact that it is another beautiful Seeds of Peace day. I will never forget seeing him, when his battle with cancer was just beginning, draw upon every ounce of strength he had in order to summon the energy necessary to make one more moving lineup speech or one more trip around Camp for activities. His passion for the things he cared about will inspire me – and bind all of us – forever, and I will always treasure the time I shared with Wil Smith.
Wil Smith was a special SOUL. Who was converting FOES into FRIENDS.I am sure that he was trying his level best,to make this WORLD, a peaceful & happy place for every HUMAN BEING.May his soul rest in eternal peace. Amen.
Hannah (Maine Seed)
I thought going back to Camp this time without Wil Smith would be impossible. I thought Camp would be missing something. Although at times it felt different being a PS without him, Wil’s legacy lives on. During the times when I found myself most missing him and missing his early morning “what a beautiful Seeds of Peace day it is!” or other inspiration, I could feel Wil’s presence. He is still at Camp and lives on through those he affected. The 2015 first-year campers aren’t missing out on anything as his legacy is being passed down. They know about Wil, just as the rest of the world does. Wil’s presence is still at Camp and with everyone he’s impacted, and will forever be. “TRUST THE PROCESS.” Rest in Peace, Wil.
Mohab (Palestinian Seed)
To the one who inspired us all the time, who gave us the meaning of love, care, and most importantly, making a change in yourself and your community: I can only say after a whole year of missing you, may you rest in peace Wil. We will never forget you and your impact.