4-H AMBASSADOR TO STUDY AT NOTRE DAME
By Mardi Ford
Observer Staff Writer
Like so many other high school seniors this month, Camden McClelland is approaching graduation with a high sense of anticipation.
The 17-year-old senior at Cove High School has spent a lifetime preparing for what comes next. And what comes next for this small town boy is extraordinary.
In August, Camden McClelland will realize a long held dream when he boards a plane for Indiana as a college freshman at Notre Dame.
"I'm thinking the name and the hair should give me an edge," he jokes.
He credits much of his bright future to his past Â—especially the nine years he spent learning self-discipline, responsibility, leadership and the power of community service in 4-H programs Â— especially the 4-H Ambassador program.
"I was writing this paper about it," McClelland recalls, "and I was like Â— whoa! You don't really think about it while you're doing it," he says. "But seeing it there in front of me on paper Â— when you step outside of it and see what its done Â—that's when I realized what 4-H had done for me."
The paper McClelland was working on was the final application for a highly competitive $1.2 million scholarship program through the Toyota Community Scholars Foundation. Only 100 seniors nationwide are granted an award. Out of tens of thousands of applications, McClelland made it to the final 1,000. The paper he submitted as a finalist was about his work with Union County's Ambassador program. It secured him one of the Foundation's prestigious $10,000 scholarships.
Last month, McClelland and the 99 other scholarship winners were treated to an all-expense paid trip to Louisville, Ky.
"They treated us first class," McClelland says, highlighting their stay in a beautiful historic hotel, a dinner cruise on a paddle boat, a tour of the Toyota plant and the award ceremony held at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
"But the best part of the trip was meeting the other scholarship winners," he says, admitting a little intimidation at first.
"They were all top of their class from big schools Â— a lot of them going to Harvard and Yale. At the time I still thought I was going to Washington State and I felt a little out of place," he admits. McClelland lost that feeling, however, when he presented his award winning paper on the Ambassador program.
"When I started talking about 4-H," he says, "a lot of them starting clapping and whooping because they'd been active in 4-H, too."
4-H, it seems, builds leaders and achievers all over the country.
The Toyota scholarship will be split equally over McClelland's four years at Notre Dame. Since he has also been awarded other scholarships, however, he will still have a scholarship package of $10,000 applied toward his first year at Notre Dame.
And Notre Dame also awarded McClelland, who will major in architecture, the "best financial aid package" of the seven colleges to which he applied for admission.
He credits much of his future to lessons learned throughout his 4-H years Â— especially the Ambassador program. The 4-H Ambassador program is a leadership training program for older teens who want to continue beyond the traditional cutoff at 8th grade.
"You can only raise so many sheep," McClelland says with a grin.
Looking for a way to continue growing, McClelland took the vision fellow 4-H'er Teresa Weeks had for a leadership program she helped develop. McClelland implemented the plan for older 4-H'ers and the Ambassador program grew.
"It's not just another club," McClelland says, calling the program "elastic" for its continued evolvement.
McClelland says the unique thing about the Ambassador program is the fact that it's youth driven. If anybody has a good idea they throw it out to the group which brainstorms on how to make it happen. They don't really need a leader or external direction though they go to extension agent Carole Smith for advice when they need it.
"We all take responsibility," McClelland says. "By the time you get to this level, you know what to do."