Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 2:08 p.m.
Like most 17-year-olds, Raven Delk isn't sure what she wants do when she “grows up.”
It could be something in the realm of politics, maybe as the first female president. Or perhaps she will conquer the world of media communications — as a talk- show host or TV pundit. She might even be a professional singer. At this point, her future is bright with thousands of possibilities.
The 17-year-old, who moved to Gainesville from Pleasanton, California, last year, is already making a big splash in this community.
An honor-roll student with a current 4.47 weighted GPA, Raven is growing her list of accomplishments: She is the recipient of the 2014 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award, which is bestowed upon an outstanding Alachua County student each year; she is vice president of her senior class at Buchholz High School; and she is co-founder of the Buchholz High School branch of the United Nations' Girl Up Campaign, a volunteer fundraising project in the U.S. that helps young girls in developing countries deal with educational, health and safety issues.
“All of our friends think she could be president one day. She's so very good with people, she can influence people to do good things,” says Scott Delk, her father, an executive pastor with Spirit of Faith Church.
Doing good comes naturally to Raven, who is passionate about her volunteer projects: Kids Against Hunger, which packages meals for those in need; her church's summer day camp at Spirit of Faith; and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization. Together with her mother, Teikeshia Delk, a preschool director for Spirit of Faith, they've helped during one of the biggest events, the Komen Race for the Cure.
“We actually lost my [maternal] grandmother to breast cancer so that [cause] has been really near and dear to my heart,” says Raven. “We did the 5K once, but now we are mostly behind the scenes.”
While she might be content to work away from the limelight, Raven is, in fact, comfortable on stage, which is no surprise due to her love of performing.
The varsity cheerleader and senior homecoming court nominee says her strongest passion right now is music. Whether she's singing, writing or performing — she likes to dabble in it all.
“My dad has been a worship leader and I grew up learning the harmonies,” Raven says of her start in music.
“We've always had a piano in the house,” says Scott. “When she was 6 years old, we had [piano] lessons for her for about six months.”
With that as her musical foundation, Raven's passion for song continues to grow. She is a member of the church choir and uses every opportunity to sing at home with her family, even teaching her younger brother, Ryan, age 7.
“We are teaching him how to harmonize,” she says of her younger sibling. “Also, I've started writing songs and playing piano. I really love it.”
Her passion for music came in handy during competitions on the pageant circuit, where Raven competed as Miss Alachua County's Outstanding Teen in 2013. She won the formal wear and talent competition for performing a song from the opera “Man of La Mancha.”
“She's self-taught in opera,” says Scott with pride.
At first, Raven's parents were less than thrilled about her desire to enter the world of pageants. She says they didn't want to deal with anything that was like the reality TV show “Toddlers and Tiaras.”
Eventually, Scott and Teikeshia came around to see their daughter's perspective, especially when she picked out competitions that catered to scholarships. Her first competition was at the age of 9 with Miss American Coed (MAC).
“I got involved with natural pageants [in which contestants are not allowed to wear makeup],” she says. “That was nice because it kind of takes the attention away from the glitz and glamour, and we learned public speaking skills.”
Raven moved on to other competitions, such as the National American Miss (NAM) pageant, when she was 15 years old. Similarly, girls are not allowed to wear makeup, and the pageant focused on public speaking and communication skills.
“I got fourth runner-up overall,” Raven says of her most recent competition, the 2013 Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen, which is the little sister pageant to the Miss America organization.
Although she wasn't crowned with a victory this time, her experience with pageants has been invaluable.
“I really think pageants have made a positive impact on who I am. ... You meet other girls who are involved in their communities, who are top-notch academics, and who are athletes and things like that,” she says. “Just being surrounded by those kinds of people really inspires you.”
In turn, Raven has inspired peers of her own. After her acceptance speech during the awards ceremony for the Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award, several children rushed over to meet her.
“These little girls were coming up to me and saying, 'I liked your speech,'” she says. “It's such an honor to have children looking up to me.”
Raven, whose favorite classes are AP calculus and AP physics, remains grounded despite her achievements. She credits her family for helping her reach her goals.
“My parents have been such a big support. First and foremost, they tried to instill in me the values of always trying to make a difference, always trying to make a positive impact,” she says. “Also, we joke that they are my chauffeurs; I literally couldn't do all that I do without having my parents drive me places, getting me where I have to go.”
Teikeshia and Scott, who have been married for 20 years, have different parenting strengths but recognize the importance of asking one another for help — and asking their families and friends, too.
“We really had a village,” says Teikeshia. “We were very fortunate to have our families to ask for advice. I would also ask friends who had been down this road.”
Raven has not decided where she'd like to attend college next year. Her top choices: the University of Florida, Vanderbilt, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia. She is leaning toward studying communications or possibly communications of science, and would eventually like to pursue a master's degree.
“I don't know for sure where I will be, but I am feeling good about the future,” she says. “I hope in 10 years … that I'm continuing to make a difference.”
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