Roan Scholar Connor McClelland has his eye on politics

Rick Wagner • Mar 20, 2017 at 9:19 AM

GRAY — A future politician and statesman may be about to graduate from a Washington County high school. And his friends and family will have no trouble watching that event firsthand, thanks in part to him.

When he and his other classmates walk across the graduation stage this spring, it will be at a place with enough room for family and friends to see the ceremony in person instead of some having to view it on a television monitor, thanks in part to an effort by him and other student government officers.

“I would love to be a United States senator,” said Connor McClelland, a senior at Daniel Boone High School and one of the eight new members of the Roan Scholars Leadership Program at East Tennessee State University. “I have a great interest in legislative politics, because even though they are often underappreciated, they are the most influential part of the American system.”

McClelland already has had a taste of politics through the Tennessee American Legion Boys State last summer. He served as lieutenant governor and, more recently, assumed the responsibilities of acting governor when the governor was elected president of Boys Nation. His college plans are to study history and pre-law as an undergraduate and then go to law school. 

He also is student council president at Boone and with the other officers led an effort to get graduation ceremonies moved from the school’s campus in Gray to the Mini Dome at ETSU. They made the proposal to the Washington County school board.

“There’s a big majority of people who didn’t get to watch it live,” McClelland said, adding that the overflow viewing also was almost full.

“I think it’s (politics) an opportunity to better people’s lives,” McClelland said. Instead, however, he said “public office has often been taken advantage of” for folks to better themselves. 

McClelland has “terrific interpersonal skills” and is a “high-energy person with a strong, uplifting personality,” according to Regina Cox, McClelland’s high school counselor. “I would go so far as to say he will be a political force in his lifetime.”

The program includes a four-year scholarship and four years of customized experiences and opportunities, including international travel and study abroad. In return, Roan Scholars are expected to seek and serve in leadership roles and after graduation continue leading and making a significant impact both in their chosen professions and in their communities.

Aside from politics, McClelland also enjoys camping, playing guitar and listening to music. And as his Eagle Scout his project, he spent five months surveying, plotting and mapping the 200-year-old cemetery of the Fall Branch United Methodist Church, which he attends. Although a native of West Virginia, he moved here in third grade with his mother; brother, Kyle; and sister, Mallory. His mother died last year, so he lives with his grandparents, Betty and Donald Ratliff.

The other seven Roan newcomers, who will join 22 returning Roan Scholars on campus this fall, are Katie Barlowe of A.C. Reynolds High School in Asheville, N.C.; Tiffany Cook of Cherokee High School; Larissa Copley of Grainger High School in Rutledge; Cierra Linka of South Greene High School; Austin Ramsey of Sullivan Central High School; Iris Rubi Estrada Romero of Avery County High School in Newland, N.C.; and Adam Rosenbalm of Tri-Cities Christian School. 

This year’s Roan Scholars class was selected from a pool of nearly 100 students nominated by more than 60 high schools in 27 eligible counties throughout the region. Funded primarily by private donations, the program was established in 1997 by Louis H. Gump.

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