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Two Norfolk Academy seniors, William Smythe and Sean Miller, have been selected as Jefferson Scholars, the premier scholarship at University of Virginia, recognizing excellence in the Jeffersonian ideals of leadership, scholarship, and citizenship.
It is rare for a school to have two recipients of Jefferson Scholarships in the same year, as the pool of nominees is drawn not just from schools around the country, but also from around the world. The Jefferson Scholarship award covers the entire cost of attendance for four years at UVA, plus an array of supplemental enrichment experiences, including foreign travel.
The path that unites these two seniors is perhaps even more unusual: They have been classmates at Norfolk Academy since the first grade, and as such, have forged an enduring friendship over that 12-year journey.
Headmaster Dennis Manning drew attention to that fact in a video message to the community. “What an extraordinary achievement for these young people, both of whom enjoyed the full 12-year formation here,” he said. “And they are so quick to give credit to their teachers, coaches, and faculty members, and to the institution.”
As juniors, both were enrolled in the headmaster’s spring English course, “Shakespeare and Leadership." This year, they are two of the three students enrolled in Latin VI, a language they began studying in seventh grade. “We both push ourselves a lot in our classes,” Smythe said. “We hold each other to high standards.”
It is a friendship that takes in more than academic pursuits. Both are Global Affairs Fellows of the Batten Leadership Program and have cultivated an interest in international relations and diplomacy through four years in that co-curricular program, which included two trips to Peru to learn about indigenous populations there.
Both students have been involved in projects related to their work as Global Health Fellows. Miller played a prominent role in a survey that was used to gather the opinions of local Peruvians towards the Chinchero International Airport. Over the past two and a half years, Smythe spearheaded a project to tutor refugees in partnership with Hampton Roads Refugee Relief (HR3); he and several other students have provided English lessons and SAT tutoring to teenage boys, all recent immigrants from Pakistan, Syria, and Afghanistan.
While they collaborate on Global Affairs works, both have strong views. Not infrequently, they find themselves on different sides of an issue. “We debate political topics and we’re very passionate,” Miller said. “Talking to William gives me new insights and perspectives.”
And this year, Miller, who likes to call himself a “three-play athlete” for his year-round participation in Norfolk Academy’s theatrical productions, finally persuaded Smythe—an avid athlete—to join the cast of The Addams Family; Miller starred as Gomez, patriarch of the of the clan, and Smythe played Granville Addams, one of a bevy of dancing and singing ancestors.
“I was working on convincing him throughout the entire fall,” Miller said. “He had a solo during a song—I never expected him to get onstage and sing by himself and dance! He was great.”
In addition to their outstanding academic records, both Smythe and Miller have been energetic participants in the life of the school beyond the classroom.
Smythe is co-president of the Special Olympics Club, which he has been involved in since sixth grade; co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Belfry; vice president of the Latin Club; and a member of the Varsity Soccer and Lacrosse teams.
Miller, who is a National Merit Finalist, is president of the International Relations Club, president of the Prism Club, vice president of the Science Fiction Club, and secretary of the Fine Arts Club. However, he is most widely known to Norfolk Academy audiences for his many star turns in school productions—as Hansa in I Never Saw Another Butterfly; as Helen Keller’s brother, James, in The Miracle Worker; as John Proctor in The Crucible; and, just a few weeks ago, as the effervescently devilish Gomez Addams in The Addams Family.
The selection process for the Jefferson Scholarship typically includes an on-campus weekend in March for the 120 finalists, where they participate in a variety of group interviews and activities. The COVID-19 pandemic radically altered that final stage, as colleges and universities closed their campuses and shifted to distance learning. Instead of the weekend, each candidate did a virtual interview with three members of the Jefferson Scholars Selection Committee.
The students were notified by email, and Smythe noted that time moved so slowly as he awaited the decision, which—when it arrived on March 23 — felt “surreal,” he said. “l was in shock, and I had to go for a run to expend the energy...It was one of the best runs I’ve ever had.”
Students selected as Jefferson Scholars have until April 20 to notify UVA about their acceptance of the award. Smythe, who said that he is interested in studying public policy at UVA’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, has already accepted. Miller, who plans to major in computer science and pair that with a second major in the liberal arts, was also accepted at Yale and Harvard; he is still considering his college destination.
- Jefferson Scholars
- Athletic News
Mr. Chad Byler, who has served for 26 years in Norfolk Academy's athletics and physical education departments, has been named Director of Athletics.
Coach Byler has served in an array of roles during his tenure at Norfolk Academy. He has served in administrative roles, and also been a trainer, teacher, and coach for basketball and baseball. This school year he has been Interim Co-Director of Athletics, as well as a Middle School Health and Physical Education teacher, and Junior Varsity Boys Basketball head coach.
He helped start the VISAA Girls Soccer tournament in 2005, then became chairman of the VISAA Baseball tournament in 2010. In 2014, the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association honored Coach Byler with its Athletic Director of the Year award.
Norfolk Academy conducted a thorough and extensive national search in hiring for this position.
“Coach Byler’s appointment is a testament to the value of loyal, dedicated service and to a determined path of constant improvement and professional growth and attainment," Headmaster Dennis Manning wrote in an announcement of the news.
“Two key considerations secured the final appointment for Coach Byler," Mr. Manning continued. “First, he has the clear confidence and support of our program leaders — our varsity coaches who provide critical leadership in our athletic program — and he has garnered the respect and admiration of athletic directors and administrators across the state of Virginia."
Coach Byler earned a bachelor's degree in sports medicine from Messiah College, where he pitched four years on the baseball team, serving as captain as a senior. He earned a master's degree in education from Old Dominion University while serving as a graduate assistant from 1992 to 1994.
Norfolk Academy offers more than 70 athletics teams across 27 sports for grades 7-12. To learn more about this extensive program, please visit our website.
The Global Health Fellows of the Batten Leadership Program have spent many hours in recent years and months examining case studies of past health crises around the world.
On Friday, the 18 Fellows delivered an updated and comprehensive situation report about the novel coronavirus pandemic, a crisis that is engulfing the globe and changing the daily lives of citizens across the U.S. and in Hampton Roads, to Headmaster Dennis Manning and Upper School Director Linda Gorsline. Since schools across Virginia are closed through the end of the academic year by order of the governor, the Fellows gave their report via Zoom, a videoconferencing platform that Norfolk Academy has adopted to provide distance learning.
Their report, modeled on the Emergency Support Function 8 reports used by federal public health and medical officials, covered multiple aspects of the pandemic:
- statistics on cases and fatalities globally, nationally, and locally;
- the impact of delayed responses in various countries, including the United States, Italy, China, and Iran;
- the impact on the U.S. economy;
- positive impacts on the environment, due to a reduction in vehicular traffic around the globe;
- and inventive ideas about how Norfolk Academy can continue to innovate in its approach.
Connor Tiffany '20, who moderated the discussion as various students presented the topics, emphasized that the Fellows wanted to help, as that is a central purpose of the Batten Leadership Program.
Headmaster Manning told the students that he was impressed by their work, particularly in their ability to distill the barrage of information coming from various sources. “You have put it together in an expressive and cogent fashion," he said. “I am overwhelmed by what you have done--the breadth and depth of it."
The presentation closed in a way that demonstrated a significant, and heartfelt, difference from an ESF-8 report: The students and Mr. Manning, as well as teachers watching the video-conference, shared how much they are missing one another. “Keep up the good work," Mr. Manning said. “We care deeply for you," and everyone waved good-bye.
Nineteen Norfolk Academy students have been honored for their writing in the prestigious Elie Wiesel Student Competition.
The Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater annually invites public and private school students in grades 6 through 12 from across the region to participate in the competition, named after Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (1928-2016). In his lifetime, the Romanian-born writer, teacher, and political activist wrote more than 60 books, including his renowned memoir, Night, which has been translated into 30 languages and has sold millions of copies.
The competition attracts hundreds of students, encouraging them in their exploration of moral courage, the dangers of prejudice, peer pressure, unthinking obedience to authority, and indifference.
This year, Sahib Chandi '20 received first place in the Senior Essay division for his work, I Believe in Humanity, but I Fear We Might Lose It. Katie Post '20 took third place in that same division for her work, Superheroes Speaking Up.
Laura Read '20 received second place in the Senior Poetry division with her poem, Paper Dolls; on Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. Anne Livingood '21 took honorable mention in that division with her poem, Knock – Knock.
In addition, a host of other Bulldogs were among the finalists, meaning their entries reached the top-15 in their categories and the competition’s professional judges discussed them.
Adeline Peterson '25 was a finalist in the Junior Essay category, which had a record 575 entries. Areen Sayed '24 was a finalist in the Junior Poetry category. Senior Essay finalists included Katherine Chang '20, Olivia Highton '20, Sean Miller '20, Lelia Ottinger '20, Madelynn Foley '20, Adam Knapp '21, and Sage Ambrose-Brydie '22. Senior Poetry finalists were Ethan Sorrell '20, Molly Ruffin '21, Nadine Thomas '22, Sarah Jacobs '22, Kenneth Whitehurst '22, and Micah Baum '23.
To learn more about the abundance of academic opportunities Norfolk Academy offers for grades 1 through 12, please visit our website.
- Elie Wiesel Writing Competition
- Athletic News
Whether teaching physics or coaching lacrosse and basketball, Mr. Neil Duffy's excitement comes from helping his students succeed and grow.
So, it is no surprise that when US Lacrosse named him recipient of the Gerald J. Carroll, Jr. Exemplary Coaching Award - which goes annually to only one coach in the entire nation - Mr. Duffy chose to praise others.
“I accept this recognition with much gratitude on behalf all of the hundreds of fantastic players and fellow coaches with whom I have been so fortunate to work over the last thirty years," he wrote in thanking the Carroll family.
Mr. Tom Duquette, who stepped down last summer after 38 seasons as Head Varsity Boys Lacrosse Coach, nominated Mr. Duffy for the award. The two friends coached together in NA's lacrosse program for a quarter-century.
“Coach Duffy has had a deep and long-lasting impact on hundreds of players and students," Mr. Duquette said in his nomination. “With the award's heavy emphasis on the development of players, not just on the field but off, Coach Duffy is an ideal choice for the Carroll Award."
A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Mr. Duffy joined the Norfolk Academy family in 1994. He cited his experience with Navy Lacrosse, as well as the support of his own coaches, teammates, and fellow alumni, as central to his daily work. He currently teaches physics, is Head Girls Varsity Basketball Coach, and an assistant Boys Varsity Lacrosse coach, helping Head Coach Ryan Tucker. He has also taught physical science and algebra and coached a variety of boys and girls teams at the Lower School, Middle School, Junior Orange, and Junior Varsity levels.
One of the letters of support for Mr. Duffy came from Norfolk Academy Headmaster Dennis Manning. “Neil is in the pantheon of great teachers in a three centuries-long tradition at Norfolk Academy -- he will go down in our school's annals as one of the greatest teachers, coaches, and role models our school has known," Mr. Manning wrote. “He is among the most selfless, caring, supportive, involved, tirelessly dedicated and engaged mentors, teachers, and coaches I have known in my career. Neil's students and players revere him."
US Lacrosse is the national governing body of that sport and home of the U.S. National team. Its Gerald J. Carroll Award annually recognizes a coach whose “success is measured by the care and guidance that he gives to the balanced development of the students who play the game."
Many of Mr. Duffy's players have gone on to coaching and teaching careers of their own. Others have followed in his footsteps in serving in our nation's military. Mr. Duffy beams in pride and gratitude when reflecting about his current and former players, preferring to highlight their accomplishments, rather than his own.
“Probably the greatest joy for me after all these years now is to watch my students and players leave high school and move on to the countless amazing things they are doing, including many who have gone on to play at the collegiate, professional, and international levels and lead their teams in those settings," he wrote.
Mr. Duffy has published two novels, The Spirit in the Stick and Fly to Honor. He also maintains a blog, Spirit in the Stick: Lessons on Lacrosse and Life.
To learn more about Norfolk Academy's athletics program and teacher-coach model, please visit our website.
- Teacher-Coach Model