By Greg Gelpi
Not long ago, Era Langford, 18, "hid out" at movies while classmates went to dances and stayed to herself while others socialized in the cafeteria.
Now, the Stockbridge resident doesn't hesitate to jump on stage in front of hundreds of peers and give speeches, make competitive presentations and speak in front of corporate business executives, all before graduating high school.
Langford, a member of Clayton County 4-H, is preparing her District Project Achievement, a communications project, which she will present Saturday, but she hasn't always been comfortable in the spotlight.
"When I was in high school, I was one of the shyest band dorks around," Langford said.
Following a family tradition, she soon joined 4-H, which she credited for breaking her out of that shyness.
"4-H is just part of her, part of the fabric of who she is," said Laura Garrett, the Clayton County Extension Service agent, who oversees the county's 4-H program.
Garrett described Saturday's project as an "illustrated resume" of a year's worth of work, a year that focused on the topic of communications. The culmination of the year's worth of work is the presentation.
"People just pull you along to the point that you're pulling other people along," Langford said, explaining that older 4-H'ers fostered her growth and she now does the same for younger 4-H'ers.
Her growth continued as she climbed the ranks of 4-H, earning positions as vice president and president of the Clayton County club and with persistence earned a spot as a member of the Northwest District Senior Board of Directors .
Campaigning, meeting fellow 4-H'ers and standing before a packed auditorium delivering a campaign speech, Langford ran for the district board of 4-H, a board that oversees 39 counties, five times unsuccessfully before earning a spot on the eight-member board in her sixth attempt.
"I learned not to stop working for what I want," she said.
Her mother Melinda Langford, who works as the transportation and security manager for Turner Broadcasting System, even employed her daughter's public speaking skills for a presentation to executives of the company.
Era Langford "displayed great confidence" in giving such a presentation, Garrett said of the self-described formerly shy 4-H'er. Her mother, though, recalls a different Era.
"She would go on trips all the time and have her nose in a book," her mother, who described herself as not outgoing, said of her daughter growing up.
She's "just bubbling up with energy and enthusiasm" and "more than friendly," Garrett said of her now.
Era Langford has also earned a spot as a counselor to what she calls her "second home," Rock Eagle 4-H Camp. Counselors positions are highly competitive, Garrett said.
"All I ever did was run her where she needed to go and make sure she had all of her supplies," Melinda Langford said. "She's a self-motivator."
After graduation, Era Langford plans to attend Georgia Southern University, where she will study public relations. Beyond college, she intends to become an event planner.
She is the oldest of two children. She has a brother, Michael, 13.
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