Julian Plowden

Julian Plowden was in trouble. He was in high school, about to end the first semester of his freshman year, and his teacher was almost ready to give up on him. His behavior was cause for concern.

Plowden had enrolled as an engineering/architecture student at Jordan Vocational High School in Columbus, Ga. But as the teacher, Clayton Graham, puts it, “In the first week of first semester alone, I discovered that Mr. Plowden had a lot of uncontrollable energy.”

To him and others, the student was overly talkative and seemed to have a pretty big ego. Calling that first semester with him “turbulent,” Graham also says that from telephone calls home to parent-teacher conferences, from in-school to full-blown suspensions, nothing had managed to change Plowden’s choices.

Finally, at the end of the semester, the teacher asked Plowden why he was going down the road to self-destruction. “For the first time ever, he was speechless,” Graham remembers.

He encouraged the freshman to channel his energy into bettering himself and the common good of the school.

It was a pivotal moment for Plowden, who says Graham’s talk “persuaded me to be a better individual and to test the limits of my character.”

At the same time, Graham introduced him to SkillsUSA.

“He persuaded me to join a student organization that he was the advisor of at our school,” Plowden remembers. “He said it would help me express my full potential and to develop me into a strong, young leader.”

As Graham describes the moment, “His eyes opened wide with an ‘I want to sign up right now!’ excitement.”

“He told me how I could learn about career fields in depth,” Plowden says, “and how I could use SkillsUSA competitions as a means of experiencing how I would compete with others in the real world. After hearing him talk and seeing a few promotional videos that he showed the class, I was instantly hooked.”

Unfortunately, Plowden was on probation for the rest of the semester. But Graham, as his advisor, was there as a guide as he started his journey as a SkillsUSA member.

Since then, Plowden has racked up an impressive record of achievements as a leader and competitor, as well as academically. To name just a few:

Two-time state gold medalist in the SkillsUSA Promotional Bulletin Board competition …

First place in SkillsUSA Georgia’s State T-shirt Design contest …

Top honors in biology and architecture, and three separate medals in the honors division of the Academic Decathlon …

The highest SAT score in his school …

The key to the city of Columbus …

Oh, and he was honored by the president of the United States of America. Plowden achieved the “gold” level for the President’s Volunteer Service Award program (see facing page). In June, he received recognition for this accomplishment at the 2010 National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City, Mo.

“That felt amazing!” Plowden remembers. “After learning about [the program] at the 2009 conference, I knew I could do it. I already did community service with my SkillsUSA chapter and at my church, so it was only a matter of telling SkillsUSA about it the next year. I received a signed letter from President Barack Obama congratulating my accomplishment and a golden lapel pin.”

Placing a value on his future

Plowden’s advisor has seen huge changes in the young man. “Time and again, he has demonstrated his leadership ability by serving as a tutor for students in need of academic improvement,” Graham says. “He now has excellent leadership skills and a willing spirit to go the extra mile to assist students, teachers, counselors and administrators in whatever reasonable capacity he can do so.”

Asked about the value of SkillsUSA in his life, Plowden replies, “It can represent a myriad of good things to different individuals, but to me it shows others that you value your future and that you want to bring out your best qualities as a person, worker and leader.”

Now a freshman at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga., Plowden expects to tap into that SkillsUSA experience to help him face this new environment.

“Since I’ve competed in SkillsUSA competitions, I’m able to fully explain myself with confidence whenever I might be lost, or use my speaking skills to simply make new friends,” Plowden says.

No one could have expected such a big turnaround on the basis of one fateful talk. But Graham says he never doubted Plowden would succeed if he applied himself. “The rest is history!”