By Kathleen Swift • Photo by Artistic Expressions Photography
Many teens are involved in school and extracurricular activities and community service, but a few go above and beyond. Autumn Shelton is one of those few. Just this summer, she was elected lieutenant governor of Missouri Girls State. In order to be elected, Shelton campaigned and spoke in front of over 700 of her peers.
Shelton did not plan to run for office.
“One of the things the Girls State leaders stressed was that what we put into Girls State was what we were going to get out of it. I took a chance and went for it. This is a motto I’ve lived by in the past, too. Work hard and try; you’ll get out of it what you put into it.”
Shelton, who will be a senior at Lamar High School this fall, put her motto into action when she tried out for the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament and was selected to participate on the popular game show.
“I’ve watched Jeopardy! with my mom and grandmother for years,” recalled Shelton. “I fell in love with trivia and learning new things.” This led her to try out for the teen tournament by taking the online test. The only problem was Shelton was in the middle of a dinner theater during the scheduled test time. “I exited to the only quiet area, the bathroom, turned on my phone, and took the 50-question test there.
“Thousands of teens take the test, and they choose 150 teens from the top scorers for an in-person interview. The closest interviews were in Kansas City, but it was scheduled during the time I was at Missouri Scholars Academy, and you can’t leave MSA for any reason. So, my mom and I drove to New Orleans to go to the interview so I could be back in time to attend MSA.”
In that interview, Shelton had to take another 50-question test, play a mock game and answer questions about herself. She had to wait six weeks before she received the news she was going to be on Jeopardy! Teen Tournament.
“When I found out, I had just gotten a fortune from a Chinese restaurant saying something good was about to happen. Minutes later, I got the call that I was going to be on Jeopardy!”
Shelton prepared by following Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings’s advice. “I stood up with a pen in hand while watching the show and practiced clicking in. I also read dozens of books over trivia and history.” Her preparation paid off when she won her first game by over $7,000; however, she fell short in her second game.
Nonetheless, Shelton had the time of her life. “I had never been on the national stage for a competition before, but it was exhilarating to do what I loved. All of the other contestants were amazing, and you could tell I was part of a group excited to learn and change the world.”
The show was taped in August, and Shelton had to keep the outcome a secret until it aired in November. On that day, the community of Lamar came together to watch the program at the local theater, The Plaza. “It was amazing to have so much support from everyone,” stated Shelton, “It’s what Lamar is about, supporting each other.”
Shelton is not one to rest on her laurels as she continues to strive for success. She interns at her local newspaper and has had two short stories published in the Crowder Quill. In her freshman year, Shelton received a scholarship from the Joyce Ivy Foundation to attend Smith College’s Young Women’s Writing Workshop. Since then, she has worked as a fellow for the organization, a nonprofit committed to the academic advancement and leadership development of young women from the Midwest. She was also the Missouri winner for the National WWII Museum Billy Michal Student Leadership award and represented the Barton County Electric Cooperative in Washington, D.C., on the Missouri Youth Tour.
Shelton is considering two paths for her future.
“I’ve loved working at our local paper, The Lamar Democrat, and I’m considering journalism as a career. I’m also passionate about rural issues in politics and gifted education. I’d like to make a difference for rural issues on a national stage. I was from one of the smallest towns at Missouri Scholars Academy and on the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament, and I’d like to continue to represent rural areas and rural issues.”
As Shelton continues to put great effort into all she does, she is sure to continue to reap great dividends for herself and her community. She is a girl going places!