As she stands poised and smiling, her attire a blend of casual and professional dress, Kameron Melton, 17, more resembles an accomplished adult than a high school student, and the impression she gives is no illusion. This is the young woman Kameron has transformed into since her family’s move to Chesterfield from Charlotte, N.C., in 2008.
Kameron, now a senior at Matoaca High School and eloquent as a seasoned politician, has the zeal of a cheerleader because, well, she is one. However, she hasn’t always been the dynamic, community-oriented leader she is today. In fact, she was quite the opposite before arriving in Chesterfield.
“I was very shy before I moved,” said Kameron. “I will be honest; at first I wasn’t too thrilled about the move, but then I saw it as a fresh start, a chance to reestablish myself.”
In fact, after the initial dread she felt at the thought of leaving all she had ever known, she broke out of her shell, even striking up conversations with peers at her school in Charlotte before she left – ones she had never before spoken to, she said. She then blossomed and her personality flourished. She even attributes her nomination and selection to attend Virginia Girls State this past summer to this change, along with her newly-acquired, opportunistic approach to life’s challenges.
Out of 40 candidates from Matoaca chosen to apply for this unique opportunity, 15 were interviewed and only two young ladies were selected. Kameron was one of them. Assembled in all states, Girls State is a summer leadership program for high school students between their junior and senior years of high school, where those attending partake in a mock procession of state legislature. The young ladies participated in extensive discussions of issues facing communities, and learned appropriate group dynamics.
“I felt like it opened a door for me,” Kameron said of her experience at Girls State. “It was nice to be in the company of so many like-minded individuals. … It was nice to see the movers and shakers of tomorrow.”
Great minds could not have been the only quality the sponsors of Girls State searched for when making their decisions. Although Kameron has a GPA over 4.0, she feels strong academics wasn’t the sole credential earning her a spot at the assembly. They wanted ardent leaders, young ladies with a personality comparable to their level of academic achievement.
“I am very outspoken,” she said. “I don’t let things stress me out. … It comes down to just being able to adjust to any situation, such as speaking and not getting nervous when it matters the most.”
For Kameron, her cool, collected character has brought her a long way since the shy days. Before arriving at Longwood University, where the Girls State assembly was conducted, she had no plans to run for any position, but as she arrived, Kameron decided to run for the House of Delegates.
“Once we arrived at the assembly they asked us to give a speech if we were interested in running for a position,” she said. “I did and I won. … I don’t mind standing up for what’s right.”
Her speech consisted of channeling monies spent on Virginia prisons into early intervention programs, such as Head Start. The idea stemmed from “dinner-table discussions,” as she called it, feeling that, most of the time, intervention occurred entirely too late.
“It was something that never made sense to me,” she said, expressing her frustration at this seemingly unorthodox approach to addressing the rate of crime in our state.
With this topic the focus of her speech, she won Speaker of the House, fourth in command; she was in charge of conducting the ceremonies and addressing her peers.
Then something unexpected happened. With the ladies holding the top three positions, including the Governor herself, absent and unable to attend the assembly, Kameron became acting Governor for two and a half days.
“As Speaker of the House, I was fourth in line in charge,” she said. “The Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General could not be there, and I was the only one left to step in.”
The brief taste of life at the top must have gotten her attention. At Girls State, Kameron met current state leaders, briefly speaking with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli; she said the encounter was “empowering.” She is considering a career in politics, but first plans to attend law school in hopes to become a practicing lawyer.
Kameron knows that early-life decisions, most notably the ones made in the classroom, stay with people for the rest of their lives. In the Melton household, education is of vital importance, instilled deep within the family’s values. Kameron’s mother, Lynn Melton, a veteran teacher, asserts that hard work in education has boundless awards.
“Everyone should take education seriously because it opens doors for people,” said Melton, who last year won Teacher of the Year in the Prince George school district. “If you can establish that work ethic early on, it becomes a habit and will follow you the rest of your life.”
For Kameron, a habit it all has become. On top of volunteering with the homeless through her church’s community outreach program, Kameron spends time each week at Ettrick Elementary assisting students with early reading and writing skills, and, for the past two months, has tutored a 6 year old in reading. Once a terribly shy individual, Kameron now does the morning announcements at school every day and is part the Student Principal Advisory Committee, where, with administrators, she communicates on behalf of the student body on a daily basis.
Kameron has discovered a pivotal life lesson: With a combination of relentless hard work and an optimistic, flexible perspective, there’s not one thing a person cannot achieve.
The exciting part of Kameron’s story: It’s only the beginning of her journey.
Contributed by Daniel Jones, Village News intern.