STEPHENS CITY — Tyler Hazelwood, 17, has a shy demeanor, but he found his voice — and his calling — during his four years at Sherando High School.
When he first came to Sherando, Tyler wanted to study business. But then a pastor came to his church who got him thinking about becoming a minister.
“At first I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m not so sure about this,’ but then it just kind of grew on me,” said Tyler, who graduates this morning from Sherando.
After he decided he wanted to be a pastor about a year ago, his peers at Sherando started calling him “The Rev” and his teachers made him a T-shirt for FFA that said “Tyler Hazelwood ‘The Rev’” on the front with “Putting Jesus back in the FFA” on the back.
Tyler said he always had an interest in Pakistan, and when the pastor spoke at Tyler’s church he mentioned he had spoken at the largest mosque in the country.
“Since then I feel like something is about to change in Pakistan,” he said. “Right now, it’s not a very good atmosphere, but it seems like that’s changing.”
Tyler has been in charge of his church youth group’s outreach to Pakistan by raising money to send to ministers there.
“The goal is always to convert people,” Tyler said. “If we can bring peace as a whole to them that would be a good thing.”
Tyler will attend Lord Fairfax Community College in the fall and then plans to transfer to Liberty University.
Sherando Principal John Nelson said Tyler is a well-rounded student who is very involved in community service and serves as a role model to others in the school.
“He’s an outstanding young man of high character and integrity,” Nelson said.
Nelson added that though Tyler has always been a fairly shy student, he has become more outgoing and more of a self-starter throughout his time at Sherando.
Like most high school students, Tyler said he struggled at first to fit in.
Joining FFA made him feel like he belonged.
“I think that Sherando does a really nice job finding a way for every kind of person to fit in,” Tyler said.
Tyler has served as a parliamentarian and as chaplain for the FFA. FFA taught him a lot about leadership and public speaking, he added.
“I was scared to speak in public,” Tyler said when he first started attending Sherando.
After speaking at his church several times, Tyler said, he’s had people reach out to him afterward thanking him for what he said and that they needed to hear it.
“That means a whole lot to me to know that I am able to speak life into someone,” Tyler said.
One Bible passage — John 3:30 — resonates deeply with Tyler: “I must decrease so that he may increase.”
“Even though all these great things are happening, and I’m able to speak in front of hundreds of people. It’s not about me. It’s about a greater cause,” Tyler said. “I’m giving God’s message, it’s not me.”