MAYFIELD — An impressive maniacal laugh turned out to be important for Neil Purcell, senior at Graves County High School.
The 17-year-old found his previously unknown talent in his sophomore year when he landed the role of the plant in a school performance of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
The slightly shy Purcell had to get comfortable singing and bellowing an evil laugh on stage.
“When I got into theater I really found myself,” said Purcell, who later performed in more school plays and with the Purchase Players Community Performing Arts Center in Mayfield.
“I found my personality, so now instead of being the kind of shy guy, I’m more out there and I can just talk to anybody.”
He can also burst out the laugh impromptu, which Purcell did in the taped interview for this story available at www.paducahsun.com.
Since that first performance he’s been doing a lot more than just talking.
The Eagle Scout has a 3.9 grade-point average, ranking him fifth academically in a class of 293.
Purcell is news director of GCTV, his school’s television broadcast program. He anchors news segments.
A trip to Bellarmine University in Louisville this summer for the Governor’s Scholar Program provided courses in film studies to further his film and broadcast knowledge.
And now he can claim Teen of the Week honors.
Purcell, son of Matthew and Shanda Purcell, is the Murray State University Teen of the Week. Each Monday, the Sun features a different MSU Teen of the Week selected from nominees submitted by high school guidance counselors throughout western Kentucky and southern Illinois. In May, a Teen of the Year will be chosen from the weekly winners, earning a $5,000 scholarship to Murray State. Teen of the Week is part of the Sun’s Newspapers in Education program.
Graves County High teachers came to notice Purcell budding through high school.
“(Purcell) excels in everything he does and he is an excellent role model for students his age,” said Jacob Hein, the school’s choral director.
Hein led Purcell as a freshman in the forensics program, where Purcell first honed his speaking and performance skills. Hein also led Purcell in community theater roles and as part of the school’s choir.
“You would be hard pressed to find a better student than Neil Purcell,” Hein said.
Graves County High history teacher Barry Leonard said it’s Purcell’s leadership that he’ll remember.
“(Purcell) has been a model student not only in his academic achievements but for his knowledge and ability of how to relate history to real life,” Leonard said.
Purcell said after taking initiative on stage, it became a habit in his school and social lives.
For part of his Eagle Scout certification, he launched a volunteer effort to restore the Sacred Heart statue in the cemetery of St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm.
The job required 200 volunteer hours and $10,000 in donations.
For all of his academic and extracurricular achievements, Purcell knows where the spark came from.
“If someone asked my middle school classmates and teachers about me, the answer that they would most likely get is that I was shy or that they hardly knew me at all,” Purcell said.
“Starting early in high school I committed myself to public speaking and the stage. These skills continue to push me to use my talent of communication to benefit my community.”
Contact Adam Shull, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.