Graduating senior Kamdon Early is no stranger to late nights at Piedmont Virginia Community College’s Eugene Giuseppe Center (PVCC) in Stanardsville.
The William Monroe High School student found himself there often after school – even memorizing the center’s hours – all to complete his school work. Unlike other students, Early didn’t have internet at home, and relied on the center to keep up in school.
All of those after school hours paid off for Early earlier this month when he received a full-ride scholarship to a college or university of his choosing from the Gates Millennium Scholars program.
“I’d go to PVCC every other day to complete my work. That was my routine,” Early said. “Having that space available allowed me to do my work, focus on my goals and make it so that I could have internet. I knew that it would be difficult, but possible. I think that going through the struggles and hardships improved me as a person.”
The Gates Millennium scholarship was established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote academic excellence by providing an opportunity for outstanding minority students with financial need. More than 36,000 applications were received for the scholarship, but only 300 students were chosen nationwide. Early, whose scholarship winnings total $301,480, is the first William Monroe student to receive the honor.
Early went through four rounds of screening for the scholarship, including writing essays and an interview process.
“As I kept making each cut I was one step closer to success,” he said. “I was ecstatic every time I got the notifications. It was really surreal. The final email came in and my dad said ‘Kamdon, I saw this in your email yesterday’ and I said ‘Wait a second, that’s something about the Gates scholarship.’ It said ‘Congratulations!’ in the title. I clicked it and my mom just started yelling, and I started yelling, too.”
Early earned acceptance to all nine schools he applied to, including Vanderbilt and Emory universities. After a series of college visits, Duke University in North Carolina is where Early recently decided to pursue his education.
“Duke was actually the last visit that I had,” he said. “The school spirit they have, the basketball environment and the community were very enticing factors. The people are collaborative there. They want to improve themselves and the people around them. I sensed that at other schools but not to the degree that Duke displayed when I was there.”
Early plans to pursue philosophy and pre-law while at Duke, and hopes to eventually go to law school. He credits his love of public speaking, debating and “mental gymnastics” for that decision.
The first-generation college student is also an Early College Scholar at William Monroe. PVCC’s Early College Scholars program allows high-achieving high school students the opportunity to complete an associate degree or general education certificate while still receiving their high school diploma. Early will graduate tonight from the program with a 4.0 grade point average.
“When I got to high school I realized I could get the 4.0,” Early said. “I do work hard and try my best to get good grades, but I don’t study all day and all night. It’s a balance of airing your head out, having a social life and doing well in the academic sphere.”
Angelina Santus, director of the high school counseling center and the school’s Early College Scholars coordinator, said Early is completely prepared for post-secondary education at Duke.
“He is hard working, independent and shows a self-motivation that is far beyond his years. He has taken advantage of every academic opportunity in front of him and has yet to be stopped. He never fails to impress me,” she said.
Early acknowledged that Santus and his family, particularly his brothers, have helped him to this point.
“My brothers were a serious influence to me because they’re so good at the things they do, but it’s not academics. They really excel in their own fields. It’s cool that they also lift me up and support me. We can help each other do good things in separate fields.
“[Santus] wrote me stellar reviews for these schools and competitive scholarships that I most likely wouldn’t have received without her. She works hard to develop a working relationship with her scholars and push us to our limits,” Early said.
Early also noted he’s excited and nervous to head to Duke in the fall.
“I’m very excited to go to Duke. I feel like I can thrive in that environment,” he said. “I feel a little nervous in the sense that so many people have invested so much time, effort and money into me. When I go to a four-year university it’ll just be that pressure to be the person that has a 4.0 GPA. That pressure is existing, but I’ll try to live up to it. I know they saw something in me for a reason, and I know I have that potential in me.”