What grade level did you start at The First Academy?
What were the reasons you or your parents chose The First Academy?
When I was going into kindergarten, my parents were looking for a school where I could feel at home and where I would receive a Christ-centered education that would prepare me for life. TFA fit all of those criteria, so they enrolled me, and I have been here since. What we never expected, however, was how big a blessing TFA would be in our lives. TFA is the place where I have become a young man after God’s heart and through the incredible teachers, staff, students, and opportunities at TFA, God has shaped my life into who He created me to be.
Are you involved in extracurricular activities? If so, what are they and have you received awards in these activities? (These can be affiliated with TFA or outside of school)
I love TFA so much, so I spend all my time here and am one of the most involved students. I am one of the two Upper School Presidents, so I am heavily involved in our student leadership team that works to facilitate actual change on campus, give underclassmen leadership opportunities, unify the student body, and use our diverse talents to glorify Jesus. One amazing organization I help lead is the Comfort Club, a service and leadership-oriented collaboration of students whose goal is to be the hands and feet of Jesus at TFA every day so that no student feels invisible. We put on school-wide events and worship nights, in addition to day-to-day service and encouragement to the student body.
God has called me into ministry at TFA, and I am so blessed to be involved with teachers who will do everything to make this possible. I help lead three of our Boys Bible Study opportunities: two of my friends and I lead Bromans, our 9th-12th Grade Boys Bible Study that spends the year going through the book of Romans; we also lead Ephesmen, a 12th Grade Boys Bible Study that focuses on spiritual leadership and equipping guys to impact people for Christ; a new opportunity that we are implementing this year is a mentorship program in which each of the seniors in our Bible Studies will prayerfully choose 2 or 3 underclassmen guys to pour into and to lead closer to Jesus.
In addition to leadership, I also serve as the Chaplain of the Marching Band, which is an incredible organization full of 7th-12th-grade students committed to worshipping God through music. I am involved in our Theatre department and love to participate in the plays and musicals we put on. I also received a new opportunity this year to sing on our student worship team that leads worship during Chapel every week. Our fine arts department is thriving with so many incredibly talented students who are involved in multiple areas of the arts and many in athletics, too.
One unique thing about TFA is that students can be heavily involved in both athletics and fine arts. I am an athlete that has been fully committed to our Swimming and Diving team since I was a sixth-grader. I served as captain from 9th-11th grade, and have grown our program and held it together as we develop new Middle School students into swimmers and young men and women in pursuit of God. Swim Team has taught me so many life lessons about dealing with difficult people and working hard to accomplish a goal; this year, God used Swim to teach me a new lesson. Actually, I am not swimming my senior year because I felt God calling me to focus more on ministry, but I am so glad to discern which things to say yes to and how to manage my time wisely. No matter what a student is interested in, he or she can find the opportunity at TFA to grow in his or her talents and to grow in Christ-centered communities that will begin life-long relationships.
Which colleges are you planning to apply to or have you applied to thus far?
After experiencing TFA’s amazing famous culture, I feel led to attend a Christian college. I am applying to Asbury University, Anderson University (SC), Covenant College, Liberty University, Moody Bible Institute, Palm Beach Atlantic University, Samford University, and Wheaton College. However, I am also applying to Harvard University just to see if I could get in, even though I do not want to go there — I have learned that it is not about where you could go but where you should go, because Christ-centered community is so much more important than anything else.
What do you plan to study in college and what are your long-term career goals?
I plan to major in Theology and Biblical Studies in college, with possibly an English or History minor. God has called me through my time at TFA into educational ministry, and He has shown me through leading Bible Studies and speaking in front of students that He has given me the spiritual gifts of teaching and leadership. Right now, my career goal is to be a seminary professor who both teaches future ministerial leaders and mentors them outside of class to grow their heart knowledge, not just their head knowledge. I may also work and/or preach at a church at some point, but I know that God has called me into teaching ministry, and He will figure out the details along the way.
Who are some of your favorite TFA teachers, and why? These can be K4-12.
While I love every single teacher and staff member that I have encountered in my 13 years at TFA, I want to focus on three special people that God has used in my life. My 9th and 10th grade Bible teacher, Mr. Steve Kavanagh, is the sponsor of all the Boys Bible Studies I am a part of, and God has used him to call me into ministry. Through seeing how Mr. Kavanagh uses his knowledge and position to mentor younger men into deeper relationships with Christ, God has shown me that He wants me to use my biblical knowledge in love to edify other believers. My Band Director and Fine Arts Director, Mr. Gordon Snyder, has also been such an incredible influence in my life. Mr. Snyder gives students so many opportunities to lead the band and develop it into the family we know it to be, and I have learned how to lead others as a shepherd under his leadership.
Mr. Snyder is also helping me work out my career and college plans as I wrestle between vocational and educational ministry and how music will fit into the rest of my life. My 10th grade Pre-Calculus teacher, Mr. Neil Harrison, may be my favorite teacher at TFA. He immediately connected with me and my friends, and I have stayed connected with him even though I no longer take his class. Sometimes we eat lunch with him, sometimes we have deep conversations with him, sometimes we just laugh at stupid physics jokes with him, but Mr. Harrison is truly the reason why I want to teach when I am an adult. I have seen how God uses teachers to connect with students beyond the classroom, and I want to be a part of that. I know for a fact that every student at TFA has at least one specific faculty member he or she can connect within a deep relationship because every single teacher is always searching for students to mentor and become friends with.
In one sentence, what did being a student at The First Academy mean to you?
Being a student at TFA means diving into deep relationships with teachers and other students who God will use to shape your life and form you into the person He created you to be.
How has TFA made a difference in, or impacted your life?
Probably the most impactful difference TFA has made in my life is teaching me how to make friends. I am an introvert and naturally a little scared of people, but TFA has taught me how to give parts of myself away to people and to take pieces of them and treasure them in my heart forever. God has blessed me beyond measure with a group of friends that will sharpen me in my faith and will allow me to feel confident as I step into new ministry opportunities. We started growing together in ninth grade, and when one of my friends and I started a Bible Study during lunch every day, we all grew exponentially closer to each other and to Jesus. God has used us in each other’s stories even when we didn’t know it and has shaped us into the spiritual leaders of TFA. One important thing to note, however, is that TFA doesn’t have the rigid cliques of other schools.
In fact, I would consider about half of the Upper school as my friends, and the others as friendly acquaintances. TFA is large enough to have diverse relationships but small enough to have many deep ones. Over the past few years, I have witnessed a new school unity like never before. For example, our entire Fine Arts department — once riddled with unspoken division — is now incredibly unified and encouraging of the other arts and activities outside the arts like academics, athletics, and leadership. As a senior, I have seen the student body grow so much closer together as they grow closer to Jesus. Now it doesn’t matter your age, gender, ethnicity, what activities you participate in, or what classes you take, just that Jesus loves you and rescued you from your sin.
Do you feel that The First Academy has prepared you for life after graduation?
I know that TFA has prepared me for life after graduation. I know how to learn, how to study, how to research, how to ask questions, how to think critically, and how to see God’s fingerprints through any discipline. TFA’s academics are rigorous and the faculty know how to connect with students to facilitate a love of learning. However, beyond academics, TFA has taught me how to love God and love other people, how to connect in deep relationships, how to manage my time, how to work hard, and how to worship God with my life and live every day in ministry.
What is your favorite memory at TFA?
One of my favorite memories is the optional worship time we had at the beginning of this year on the Senior Retreat. The entire senior class went to Southwind — a YoungLife campground in Central Florida — for three days of rest, bonding, and spiritual awakening. As the leaders of our school, we were given the opportunity to grow together and develop new friendships that we never had before. Different people who usually don’t spend time together were playing the same games and eating at the same tables. We were served by some incredible juniors and alumni who sacrificed their weekend to serve in the kitchen for hours, but their presence reminded us that we are continuing the legacy of those gone before us and leaving our legacy for those coming after us. The culmination of the retreat was the last night when we had optional worship for any seniors, teachers, staff, and alumni and juniors that wanted to come. People from all different groups, backgrounds, friends, and stories came together to bow before the throne of God and to worship Him for how He is so good and how He is the Lord of all.
How have you grown in your walk with Christ since coming to TFA?
Since I grew up in a Christian home, I was already a Christian before I started at TFA. For most of my Lower School years and even into Middle School, I learned the content of the Bible and I became very confident in my biblical knowledge. In eighth grade, I began to develop my faith for myself and actually personally encounter God. However, by my freshman year of high school, I was very prideful in my righteousness and my biblical knowledge. I was judgmental and saw myself as practically perfect. God used TFA chapels, teachers, older students, and Bible Study opportunities to break down the barriers in my mind that had prevented me from seeing my sin; for the first time, I had true heart knowledge that matched my head knowledge. Since then, God has grown me so much and set me aflame for Him. God gave me a passion to bring people closer to Jesus that I never had before, and He called me into ministry at TFA while I am still a student. I now know that my life is not my own and that everything I do should be with the purpose in mind to point others back to Jesus.
What was one spiritual insight you gained at TFA that has impacted your life the most?
The most impactful spiritual insight I gained at TFA is how to hear the voice of God and follow His calling. Since I have been in high school, God has called me to start three Bible Studies, lead four of them, speak in front of my peers, join the worship band, learn to say “no,” dive into new relationships, have hard conversations, and sacrifice my whole life to Him. None of these things were easy to do, but God specifically showed me that He will be with me even when I am terrified or when it feels like I could never do what He wants me to. Now I have faith that God’s plans are so much better than my own and that He will equip those He calls.
What does the school year them, “Stronger Together,” mean to you and how have you incorporated in your day to day life this year?
Even though The First Academy is a school, I like to see it as a church. What I mean is that it is a gathering of people that are growing together as they grow closer to Jesus. To me, “Stronger Together” means loving God with everything you have and then letting that love spill out into your other relationships. Once you have deep relationships rooted in Christ, you will be able to stand with each other and stand for each other when the storms of life come. I have experienced so much unification at TFA in the past few years, and especially in the few weeks, we have already had of the 2019-2020 school year. One specific way that I incorporated this into my life was setting aside a time to meet with two of my best friends and share our testimonies.
It was so amazing to see the ways God has been working in our lives since our birth and how He has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light. The three of us decided to get together with four of our other best friends and all share our stories together. The seven of us now have a much deeper and stronger bond, a bond that will last beyond high school, beyond college, all the way into eternity. I now know what motivates them and how I can pray for them. We are all freed from our pasts in God’s glorious, life-giving love; now we are able to talk with each other even more honestly and support each other as we diving into leading the ministry effort at TFA our senior year.