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Mike Connors

Just a few days before Veterans Day, the Military Appreciation Club welcomed to campus an accomplished author who gave an insightful lesson about the torture that prisoners of war endured during the Vietnam War.

Alvin Townley was the special guest on November 7. Mr. Townley has written several books, including the recently released Captured: An American Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. That book highlights the horrors Jeremiah Denton suffered through while in captivity between 1965 and 1973. Mr. Denton spent part of his life in Virginia Beach and had a grandson graduate from Norfolk Academy.

Students listened attentively as Mr. Townley painted a picture of POW life during that time. Their meals were awful. They were physically tortured as the enemy tried to coerce them into signing confessions of wrongdoing. Their small cells were so hot in summer that they would put their noses to a tiny space under the door just to breathe.

Beyond that physical suffering was the mental torture. They were kept by themselves in those cells, hour after hour and day after day.

Still, Mr. Townley said, the group bonded together so that they would one day return home with honor. They kept their wits using tap code, a system of knocking on walls, to communicate and share stories.

Back in America, the women in their lives also bonded together. They formed an organization known as the National League of POW-MIA Families, which helped unite the country around the idea of bringing their loved ones home. 

Finally, in 1973, Mr. Denton returned. His message: “We are proud to have served our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our commander-in-chief and to our nation for this day. God bless America."

Mr. Denton became U.S. Senator Denton a few years later, serving the state of Alabama in Washington, DC. 

He and the others in captivity had returned with honor, with the help of their wives, Mr. Townley said.

That story should provide valuable lessons, he added:

  • Remember how quickly life can change.
  • When things go bad, never lose faith.
  • Find the right people to support you.

After Mr. Townley spoke, Headmaster Dennis Manning offered him appreciation for collecting and sharing the extraordinary stories. 

“They are a valuable reminder how fortunate we are to be born in the United States," Mr. Manning said. “Thank you for reminding us of that."



Steve Lawson
  • Alumni News
Mike Connors

Steve Lawson '83 was honored recently for his work on an affordable housing community in Virginia Beach's ViBe Creative District. 

Virginia Beach's Human Rights Commission honored Mr. Lawson, board chairman of The Lawson Cos., at its yearly banquet in October. He was recognized for promoting cultural diversity, equal opportunity, and other human rights efforts.

Lawson and his company designed and built the Seaside Harbor development, according to an article in Inside Business, the Hampton Roads Business Journal. Some units are set aside for families of persons with developmental disabilities. Also, the Samaritan House, a nonprofit for homeless families and victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, is a co-owner of the complex.

Read the Inside Business article to learn more about Mr. Lawson and the project. 


  • Alumni
Girl Scouts
Mike Connors

Two Middle School students recently provided a world of help to children around the globe with serious medical needs.

Emerson Marling '24 and Sarah Glassman '25 are Cadette Scouts in Troop #919. When they started thinking about their Girl Scout Silver Award Project about a year ago, they agreed they wanted to do something that would benefit the community.

Along with fellow Scout Gabriella Bergstrom, they decided to help Operation Smile, a Virginia Beach-based charity that provides free surgeries for children and young adults in developing countries who are born with dental and facial conditions.

“We really wanted to help them," Emerson said.

The girls went to work, with guidance from Jennifer McKendree, Associate Vice President of Student Programs at Operation Smile, putting together an Operation Smile Awareness Day. As part of their efforts, the girls asked for toiletry and stuffed animal donations from the community. They brought in other scouts to advance the cause. 

Lastly, they gave up a free Saturday in October for the big day. The net result: The girls raised enough money to pay for one surgery, and area troops and an anonymous donor paid for three more. They collected more than 1,100 toiletries and 660 stuffed animals. And they created more than 100 get-well cards.  

“It was breathtaking," Sarah said of the community and scout support for their cause.

About 50 Scouts helped with the event. The group included Brownies Lola Mae McKenzie '28 and Taylor Stacy '28, and Senior Scout Annalee Marling '23. They listened to a speech from Alexis Sisino '20, who discussed her mission trip to Guatemala City, Guatemala. 

Pamela Marling, Emerson's mother and the Scout leader, said the girls' dedication motivated and encouraged her. They stayed on top of deadlines and gave several public speaking presentations. It was clear they were focused on helping others.

“The Operation Smile Awareness Day event from the start was less about earning the award and more about spreading awareness as to how Operation Smile is changing lives, one operation at a time," Mrs. Marling said.

This is not the end of the story. While the girls are pleased with how much they raised, they want to do more. They're talking about helping in another way, by going on a mission trip of their own.

Emerson became interested in Operation Smile through her work with NA's Middle School Happy Club. Sarah became interested through the Community Service Summer Program that Assistant Director of Admissions Maria Moore '00 ran last year.  

“I am beyond proud of these girls," Mrs. Moore said. “What an amazing accomplishment! I can't wait to see how they give of their time and many talents to serve others, and support Operation Smile, in the years to come."

Emerson and Sarah's efforts gained them kudos in The Virginian-Pilot's Virginia Beach Beacon



Elyse Tapper Cardon
  • Alumni News
  • Fine Arts News
Mike Connors

Elyse Tapper Cardon '90 is making her mark on the local fine arts scene, as chairwoman of the Richmond Ballet Hampton Roads Advisory Council and a dance repetiteur for the Norfolk cast of The Nutcracker.

Ms. Cardon began her dance career with Richmond Ballet, The State Ballet of Virginia, in the early 1990s. She later opened one of the first Pilates studios in this region and a photography business. 

The Nutcracker will be performed at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk from December 6-8.

Ms. Cardon recently did an interview with Tidewater Women, talking about ballet, her career, and The Nutcracker.  

  • Alumni
Colombian students
Mike Connors

There are plenty of differences between Norfolk, Virginia, and Chia, Colombia. But there is also much the same.

That is a main lesson seven Colombian teenagers learned during their recent time at Norfolk Academy. While absorbing Academy's culture and touring American historical landmarks with NA students, they came to feel at home.

“We have differences, but at the same time, we have huge similarities," said Pamela Ospina, a coordinator at Colegio Bilingue Rochester, the school partnering with Norfolk Academy on this exchange program.

The Colombian students, along with Ms. Ospina and Spanish teacher Leo Betancourt, were here about two weeks. They arrived in late September, first spending a few days in Washington, D.C. Some of the students want to ultimately attend an American college, and they received a tour of Georgetown University from Taylor Harvey '18, who attends that school.

Once they came to Norfolk, they began learning about Academy life. They became part of Upper School chapel, giving a presentation about Colombia and their school. They noticed similarities and differences - the facilities and structure of courses are alike, but their school has closed lockers and they appreciated NA's openness and level of trust.

They also learned about how NA students balance academics with extracurricular and other activities, by staying at their homes. 

Lucas, one of the exchange students, was impressed by NA's Honor System. But one of his favorite parts of the stay was spending time with Christopher Asuncion '21, his host. The two tried out various American foods and had fun playing board and video games.

This experience helped assimilate Lucas into American culture, he said. That was valuable because he wants to attend college here.

“It was a good bonding opportunity," Christopher said.

NA students in the exchange will travel to Colombia next spring. While there, the third-year Spanish language students will live with a host family and enjoy sites around Bogota, a major city near Chia. They will also study special topics at Colegio Bilingue Rochester, including that school's unique sustainability efforts.  

The Colombian exchange is just one offered at Norfolk Academy. Students from France are currently visiting our school, and third-year French students will later study at Saint Dominique, which is a short ride from the heart of Paris. Exchanges also exist between NA and schools in China, Germany, Argentina, and Spain.

Academy emphasizes global learning, and offers several other opportunities for students to study abroad.

Colombian students said “hasta luego" or “see you later" to their new Academy friends on October 13, taking a group photo in The Pit. They will reunite in May. 

This is the first year of the Colombian exchange. Taylor Winn, Upper School Spanish teacher and Colombian exchange coordinator, said it has been a success.

Ms. Ospina agreed.

“We feel grateful," she said. “It has been a great, once-in-a-lifetime experience." 

To see more exchange photos and learn about the Academy International Programs, visit the Twitter feed.