Kennedy Thompson, 17, a senior at Annapolis High School, has been involved since freshman year in the school's theater productions. He recently portrayed Tony in the school's spring musical "West Side Story."
It's hard to miss Kennedy Thompson.
The 17-year-old Annapolis High School senior seems to be everywhere. Recently, he was photographed during a rehearsal of the school's production of "West Side Story." In the lead male role of Tony, he was lensed along with the female lead, Iris Reyes, portraying Maria. The photo was on the front page of The Capital.
A few days later, Kennedy was spotted in a shocking, grisly scene aired on a local TV station. He was strapped onto a gurney, his clothing was torn, he was sobbing and appeared to be bleeding profusely.
Kennedy participated as an accident victim in a realistic demonstration of the dangers of texting or drinking and driving. The outdoor event, complete with a totaled vehicle, was staged for Annapolis High's student body.
The teen, with an uplifting voice and natural acting style, seems destined to have been a performer. His parents wanted to gift him with an inspirational name and chose Edward Kennedy Ellington, in honor of jazz legend Duke Ellington.
Since his freshman year, Kennedy has participated in seven Annapolis High productions either onstage or behind the scenes with the tech crew building sets or handling the spotlight.
As Tony in "West Side Story," Kennedy said, "The hardest part of the role is trying to stay true to the character and bring my A game to the role."
His favorite song from the show is "Something's Coming." He said he struggled the most with the song in the show, "but it's an exciting hopeful song." His favorite show song, though, is one from "Hairspray." Sung as a solo by the character Seaweed, it's called "Run and Tell That."
Kennedy is also a member of the school's chapter of the International Thespian Honor Society. He was nominated for a Cappie Award for his role as Seaweed in the school's production of "Hairspray" his junior year and, as a member of the school's Cappies critics crew, he shared in its nomination and award as Best Critic Team.
Andrew Parr, head of dramatics at Annapolis High and program coordinator for its German American Partnership Program, gives the teen high marks.
"Kennedy has a natural charm, so he easily commands an audience. As soon as he begins to speak, everyone in the room will turn their head and listen to what he has to say," said Parr, who added the teen has the work ethic and natural talent to be a Broadway actor and make it in the show business world.
"Kennedy is an example of a student who has taken positive risks and these risks have certainly paid off," Parr said. "He went from being on running crew his freshmen year to the lead, Tony, of 'West Side Story.' His story is an inspiration to anyone who has thought about trying theater, but may have a fear that's holding them back."
English teacher Erin Lorenz said the teen is naturally curious and friendly.
"These traits will serve him well in theater, or any field he chooses to pursue," she said. "It has been a privilege to watch him grow as a person and as an actor over the past four years, and I am excited to see where he goes."
Outside of school, Kennedy is the lead vocalist for Bad Pickle, a rock band that covers Led Zeppelin, Monster Truck and Shaman's Harvest. The band has performed at the Metropolitan and Union Jack's.
Represented by Talent Partners of Chicago, one of his professional acting gigs was as a co-vocalist for a nationally-aired Flintstones Vitamins jingle.
Most of Kennedy's family lives in Chicago. He moved to Annapolis with his mother just before the start of his freshman year when she was transferred by her job. He arrived too late to join the new Performing and Visual Arts magnet program.
His mom, Valencia Thompson, is a CPA for Kearney & Co.
The hardest part of living in Maryland was learning the differences in language and culinary tastes between the mid-Atlantic states and the Midwest, Kennedy said.
"It's 'lollipop' here and 'sucker' there," he said, "and 'pop' there and 'soda' here. I never heard of Old Bay before. I'm not into crabs, I'm more into Giordano's deep dish pizza."
One sibling, Monique Watkins, 35, is a Chicago public school instructor. Brother Jordan McCord, 27, is a Chicago-area performer. Sister Devyn Thompson, 24, is studying for a master's degree in clinical counseling at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and is an occasional performer.
Kennedy's father, Devin Thompson, in Chicago, works for a tour boat company and is a part-time performer.
During summer 2015, Kennedy participated in the school's German American Partnership Program. With 10 students and three teachers, he traveled to Munich and Göttingen in Germany, and to Salzburg, Austria, to visit theaters, landmarks and libraries.
The group stayed in various sponsor family homes. Kennedy formed a bond with one German teen, Henrik Jeske, who took him to the Autostadt museum, adjacent to the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, to see classic cars. On another trip, the two teens toured Berlin.
When Henrik visited Kennedy in Annapolis that fall, they flew to Chicago to meet his family. Along with several family members, they drove to a Bears-Lions football game in Detroit.
He's been accepted to the Columbia College of Chicago, a performing and visual arts school. He plans to major in musical theater and is looking forward to four more years in the Windy City.
"I'm a hard-working person, and I care about my friends, teachers and family," he said.
Annapolis High Music instructor Charles Eric Franklin agrees.
"What I like most about Kennedy is that he always has a good attitude about everything. Any direction you give him or any suggestion you make, he is just ready to give it his best shot," he said.
DO YOU KNOW AN EXEMPLARY TEEN?
Anyone may nominate a Teen of the Week. To be considered, nominated teens must reside in Anne Arundel County or Kent Island and be enrolled in a high school program. Send nominations by email to Wendi Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: Nominations for members of the Class of 2017 are no longer accepted.