Senior Profile: Stephen Darling

Senior Profile: Stephen Darling – Leadership and Initiative
by Sheryl Blunt, AFA Parent and Freelance Writer 

If there is an Ad Fontes Academy student who understands classical education, it’s Stephen Darling. That’s because Stephen holds the distinction of being the first student to complete every grade, K-12, at AFA.

“I don’t know anything else!” said Stephen, who is graduating in June. “The way Ad Fontes taught me how to think and learn is 100 percent a part of me.”

Stephen in Kindergarten

Stephen in Lower School

Stephen said he is thankful for many influential teachers and for the positive environment between teachers and students built on mutual respect.

“It’s really a great environment, and something that doesn’t really come full circle until senior year,” he said. “They treat you like adults, but you still get to interact with them like you would a friend.”

Stephen said he’s enjoyed engaging in wide-ranging conversations with his teachers, particularly with Physics teacher Bill Carey with whom he’s discussed everything from movies to photography to science. He’s also enjoyed “joking around” with Literature teacher Arthur Rogers. (To his great delight Darling said he learned that in addition to being extremely well-versed in Latin and Ancient Literature, Mr. Rogers can also hold his own quoting from Will Farrell movies.)

Stephen playing baseball for the Lions

Stephen playing baseball for the NOVA Lions

Fond school memories also include playing second base for the NOVA Lions Varsity Baseball team, a combined team of AFA and homeschooled athletes. Stephen also played guard on AFA’s Falcons Varsity Basketball team his sophomore through senior years—years he said he was greatly influenced by Varsity Coach Jerry Cuffee.

“He’s awesome!” he said. “I’d like to say he’s like a second father, but he’s really more of a mentor. You know those movies ‘Glory Road,’ ‘Coach Carter’ and ‘Facing the Giants’? Coach Cuffee is, by the playbook, one of those coaches. You could make a summer blockbuster about him and it would sell!”

Stephen said what distinguishes Cuffee as a coach is his ability to motivate and inspire his players far beyond the basketball court. “I don’t think I’d have any confidence or leadership skills without him,” he said. “He saw it and brought it out in me. He believed in me more than I did. He saw something in me and made me tap into my full potential.”

Practices were about more than learning how to shoot, pass, and box out, he said. “Most practices you came away with a life lesson. Coach Cuffee was a reality check when it came to faith and how to become a man of Christ. Without him I wouldn’t be who I am.”

Stephen said he also appreciates his coach’s refusal to tolerate excuses and his all or nothing approach to the game. He and other players can recite many of their coach’s quotes by heart.

“One of his well-known sayings is, ‘I have two speeds, zero and 100,’” he said. “Another one is: ‘Excuses are monuments of nothingness. They build bridges that lead to nowhere. Those who use these tools are competent to no one, especially themselves.’”

Coach Cuffee expressed his joy at having Stephen as a player. “I’ve had the fortune of knowing Stephen for the past six years,” he said. “He is a highly intelligent, humble, and perceptive young man; traits quickly recognized upon first meeting him. He is respectful, unselfish, a hard worker, a leader, self-motivated, sensitive to others, and possesses great character.”

Stephen with Coach Cuffee

Stephen with Coach Cuffee

This year Stephen also served as co-house head of Rome—one of the four Houses all upper school students are assigned to—where he led weekly group discussions and worked to foster a positive, open atmosphere among students. Serving as a student leader also gave him the opportunity to engage with the male students he mentored and help them feel valued.

“It was really awesome getting to know these guys—keeping control of the middle schoolers—as well as just joking around with them,” he said. He added that as a leader he learned to balance the need for engaging in serious discussions with time spent simply listening and connecting.

“You learn when to engage in serious conversations, and when not to have those,” he said. “Sometimes just getting to know them as a person is better, and shows that you actually care.”

Coach Cuffee said that Stephen’s readiness to accept responsibility, take-on challenges, set high standards for himself, and positively impact others has made him a well-respected leader. “He is highly thought of by the coaching staff and within his peer group,” he said. “He has been a role model, always leading by example. He never hesitates to help others and has a level of mannerism that is unmatched.”

Stephen said he is excited about attending James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, this fall where he plans to study Computer Science. He feels that the academic rigor of Ad Fontes has prepared him well for college, particularly when it comes to writing and time management. His teachers and coaches agree.

“Stephen is committed to excellence,” said Mr. Ray Blunt, who teaches Worldview and Senior Seminar at the school. “It became obvious in small ways to me. … He has also become very thoughtful and serious about life, and has a good sense of focus as he heads to JMU.”

“He has demonstrated he possesses the maturity and discipline needed to affect positive change,” said Cuffee. “I am confident he will ultimately serve as one of James Madison’s finest ambassadors.”

Stephen Darling's senior portrait

Stephen Darling’s senior portrait

Asked if there were any verses that had become particularly meaningful to him, Stephen named Romans 1:16. The verse reads: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

“In Romans it talks about not being ashamed of the gospel,” he said. “It’s important to me because it shows how the gospel is for anyone, no matter their situation.”

Stephen said another meaningful passage is Isaiah 6:8. “In Isaiah God asks, ‘Who shall I send?’ Isaiah says, ‘Here I am, send me.’ That verse inspired me to want to be that guy who always steps up and is willing to lead,” he said, “that guy who takes the initiative.”