By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – Pontotoc High School student Robert Fleming admits he felt a tug of shyness when he entered the state Beta Club convention last month.
He didn’t let it stop him from meeting many of the several thousand attendees before the event ended.
The PHS junior was elected as the state Beta Club president during the two-day event held at the BancorpSouth Arena. In order to defeat the seven candidates who opposed him, Fleming began shaking hands with as many people as he could from the event’s earliest moments.
By the time he gave a speech on the convention’s first night, many of the attendees were already cheering for him.
“At first, I was extremely nervous,” said Fleming, 17. “My goal before the speech was to introduce myself to everyone and give my platform and get all the support I could.
“My main thing was putting shyness behind me and trying to get face-to-face contact. Sometimes I am shy about meeting new people, but as I got going, I kept going.”
The Beta Club honors both academic achievement and service. Participants need an overall A grade-point-average and must annually complete 30 hours of community service.
As the organization’s state president, Fleming will represent the club between now and next year’s convention in February. He will visit schools throughout the state and try to encourage those without vibrant chapters to start a club or to become more active. Next year, he will lead the state conference, giving a motivational speech and opening sessions.
Fleming also must lead a statewide service project. He is currently working locally to raise $1,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and may expand those efforts throughout the state.
“Beta Club gives me an opportunity to make a difference in my community and to make a difference in the state of Mississippi,” Fleming said.
Fleming has been in the club since he was a sixth-grader, but his decision to seek the leadership position came on a whim. While he was speaking with friends during the fall, someone suggested he try. PHS had one other student interested in the position, so the school held a runoff, and Fleming won the right to represent his school at the state convention.
“I thought it would be something new, different and interesting to be a part of,” he said. “As it grew bigger, it became a way to serve and try to help others.”
The support of his classmates was an important part of his candidacy. Not only did they also campaign on his behalf during the convention, they also performed a skit in support of him after Fleming’s speech.
The skit played off the viral “Gangnam Style” music video to reflect the theme of Fleming’s campaign, “Robert Style.” T-shirts also carried the slogan.
“It is about promoting service,” Fleming said when asked what the slogan means to him.
Lea Ann Dunklee, who serves as club co-sponsor with Jennifer Rodgers, said Fleming and his classmates took much initiative.
“He and the other students took the lead,” she said. “I guided them, but this has been student led. Robert does a great job of motivating them, and they listen to him.”
Fleming enjoyed that process so much that he plans to seek the office of national president during the national convention in Mobile in June.
The Eagle Scout is also active in his church, Good Shepherd Church of God, where his father is the pastor. He is the son of Robert and Shirley Fleming.
Fleming is the second Pontotoc student to become state Beta president in recent years. Robb King held the position from 2010 to 2011.
“The students are energized and excited about stepping it up for nationals,” Dunklee said. “It has really energized them.”