Senior Profile – Neil Smith
Senior Profile: Neil Smith – A Creative, Stand-Up Guy
by Sheryl Blunt, AFA Parent and Freelance Writer
Neil Smith, who has attended Ad Fontes Academy since Middle School, is probably best known by teachers and peers as the clever and funny guy with zero fear of the spotlight. In fact, if there is a spotlight, there is a good chance that Neil is in it.
Well-known for his stage presence, stand-up comedy routines, sense of humor, original songs, and fearless public speaking, Neil has honed his skills entertaining audiences from a young age.
“I’ve always loved acting,” said Neil, who debuted as Tiny Tim in a local production of Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” when he was five.
Since then he has played a wide range of roles, from Chip, the talking tea cup in Freedom High School’s production of “Beauty and the Beast”, to Winthrop Paroo in “The Music Man.” He also played Chad Danforth, one of the main characters in a High School Musical production put on by Centreville Presbyterian Church.
He is recently completed AFA’s production of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” where he performed the role of Gratiano, the unmannerly, loquacious friend of Bassanio who cannot be shut up.
But his favorite role to date was performing as Bill – one of two bungling criminals in AFA’s production of “The Ransom of Red Chief” written by O. Henry.
“It was about two idiots—played by Jonah Popp and I—who kidnapped a kid who was so annoying that we ended up just giving him back,” said Neil. “Jonah and I played off each other really well. It was a lot of fun seeing the audiences’ reactions.” Neil said that comedic roles are his favorite, likely due to his affection for making people laugh. “It’s fun. I love it,” he said.
A member of AFA’s Mock Trial team his freshman and sophomore years, Neil served as a witness and a lawyer, winning the All-State Witness award his freshman year.
He said he is thankful for teachers at AFA who helped him delve deeply into his subjects and taught him to think critically. “They taught me how to think and how to investigate topics,” said Neil. “They provided a framework for thinking about things.”
Favorite classes were his discussion-based Apologetics class as well as Chemistry, where Neil said he had fun experimenting with chemicals and “toying with the idea of explosions.”
He also fondly recalls the school’s annual Pi Day celebrations, where he has regularly performed his original Pi Day songs. The celebrations, usually held March 14th in honor of the mathematical constant, are marked by a student talent show and pie-baking contest.
Neil is also well known for his stand-up comedy routines which he has performed the last three years for Feriae Artium, AFA’s annual arts festival. The experience has given him a renewed appreciation for the creative challenges of writing, directing and performing one’s own material, he said.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” he said. “I realized how hard it was. You have to put a lot of effort into it.”
An avid baseball and basketball player both in junior high and high school, Neil played left field, third base and first base for the Lions, a baseball team consisting of AFA and home schooled players. He also played two years of JV basketball for AFA before joining the varsity team as a sophomore. Neil said he has been inspired by Varsity Basketball Coach Jerry Cuffee, who has been a role model for doing things with excellence.
“I’ve never seen him doing anything just mediocre,” said Neil, who played center. “He puts his all in everything he does. He’s really inspiring that way.”
Coach Cuffee said Neil has likewise impressed him as a respectful and intelligent player and student who readily accepts responsibility.
“He has great character, considerable self-discipline, and sets high standards for himself,” Cuffee said, adding that he believes Neil’s positive attitude and hard work will take him a long way. “He has a positive disposition and a willingness to put in the work to grow as a person. He has proven time and time again that he is an achiever. Most importantly, Neil loves family.”
Neil is looking forward to attending George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, this fall, where he has recently enjoyed playing in video game tournaments of Super Smash Bros. Melee with fellow game enthusiasts.
The school is becoming well known for its new, four-year undergraduate degree in Computer Game Design, something Neil says he is interested in exploring. It is the only such program in the state, and is quickly becoming known world-wide and within the professional gaming community. The school is also home to the Virginia Serious Game Institute, where student entrepreneurs work on anything from educational games designed to aid STEM learning to virtual reality training exercises used by government agencies.
Neil said he was both excited and relieved to be accepted by a nearby Virginia college that fits his interests so well, particularly since GMU was “the only place I wanted to go and the one place I applied!”
He added that he is also looking forward to becoming involved in an on-campus Christian fellowship community. “They have a really good Cru [Campus Crusade for Christ International] group,” he said. “They’re enthusiastic.”
Asked if there was a verse of scripture that particularly inspires him, Neil named Matthew 4:14. “Follow me,” says Jesus in the passage, “and I will make you fishers of men.” It is a fitting verse for Neil, who teachers say has developed a new-found passion for sharing the gospel and living out his faith.
“Neil is a comedian with a first-rate, insightful mind and a lot of depth,” said Mr. Ray Blunt who teaches Apologetics and Senior Seminar at AFA. “He is very creative and funny, but there’s a lot more to him than that. His faith has given him a new direction for his humor and creativity,” he said. “Neil is often thinking of ways to engage others in discussions that point to Christ. He’ll be a great asset in the Cru Discovery groups at George Mason where small groups discuss the great questions of life.”