The reminders on Jackson Willyerd’s wall at home aren’t something you would expect of a high school student. Most of them sound like the pep talk of a mature adult: “Don’t be afraid of work that has no end (loving, hunger, thirst, injustice).” “Will it matter in 5 days? 5 months? 5 years? 5 decades?” “Did you make someone else’s day better?”
“Would you want someone to talk to your daughter like that?” “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). But Jackson is not your typical high school student: student body vice president, church student ministry leader, GAC student Bible study leader, mission trip member, varsity football player, Redzone leader, and Scholar-Athlete, Citizenship, and Spartan Spirit Award winner. But most of all, Jackson is a follower of Christ.
High School students and faculty know Jackson for many reasons. One, he makes it a point to know everyone. “Some people get anxious when they have to speak in public. I feel more anxious when I don’t know someone’s name. I probably know 90% of the students in high school as well as one thing about them”. Also familiar is Jackson’s school spirit. He “bleeds red and gold” and has made it to every varsity sport, from water polo to golf, since his sophomore year. Some days there are six games taking place on “the Hill” and Jackson can be seen going from game to game, waving around a large GAC flag, cheering loudly and urging his classmates to join in the spirit. Faculty and staff have also been blessed by Jackson when he comes to their offices, bringing along a group of students, and asks if he can pray for them.
Bottom line, Jackson loves people. But it’s not just for the feel-good times. There’s brokenness too. “Because I’ve felt brokenness in my life, I can acknowledge it more in other people. A Christian psychologist I listened to in 8th grade said that people display brokenness at least 27 times a day. If you sleep 8 hours a day, that is nearly two times an hour. It might be a joke someone shares, but it may actually be an insecurity they have. If we can acknowledge it and intercede for those people when their brokenness comes out, we can make them feel appreciated.”
A student at GAC since 3rd grade, Jackson has experienced things during this time that have completely transformed his life. “I’ve been a Christian my entire life but it was March 15 of my sophomore year that I went from a believer to a follower. It was a combination of things—the GAC Waffle House discipleship group (led by teacher Brandon Johnson), the GAC Greece mission trip, and a church retreat.” In Greece, Jackson and the rest of the GAC team served with Hellenic Ministries, an organization led by Chris Moore, a GAC alum, that works with refugees who come to Greece from all over the Middle East. Jackson was amazed at how on fire the refugees who converted were in spite of persecution. “We think, I failed a math test and that’s testing my faith. These refugees get kicked out of their families and yet they still hold true because of the full life that they find in Christ. This is what we are missing in our brokenness, the fruits of the Spirit. Everyone is looking for it but we look for it in other, worldly things a lot of times. But you can only find it through the Holy Spirit and Jesus.”
Jackson credits Principal Shane Woodward and teacher Brandon Johnson for the formative changes that have taken place in his life while at GAC. “Principal Woodward is the biggest example of servant leadership for me. In the lunchroom, he’s always picking up glasses. He’s our leader, the principal, but we can tell he is here to serve us. I want to do the same.” Another thing he has picked up from Principal Woodward, formally a defensive coordinator for GAC’s varsity football team, is a desire to pursue sports professionally. Jackson will attend Samford University next year where he will major in sports marketing with a minor in Christian ministry. “If there’s a chemical equation for Jackson Willyerd, it’d be God and sports. I hope I can combine it into a career. My dream job would be to be a defensive coordinator at a Christian high school or college with enough time to lead a church and go on mission trips. God knows the desires of our hearts. Who knows? It may happen.”