This story appears in the Graduation 2019 special section.
Jake Scharff had been eager to attend Forsyth Central High School, partly because he’d be reuniting with most of the friends he grew up with, but also because he’d heard about the “family feel.”
Still, Scharff wasn’t initially sure where he fit within that “family.” First, he tried the school’s STEM program, but “it just wasn’t me,” Scharff said.
Midway through the year, Scharff was introduced to DECA, the popular organization that prepares students to become leaders and entrepreneurs in the fields of marketing, finance and hospitality and management.
Scharff had found his fit.
“That was my niche,” Scharff said.
Scharff dove into the organization with enthusiasm. He loved DECA competitions, particularly the role play events where individuals or small teams were given problem scenarios and had 10 minutes to develop a business plan to solve it and present it to judges.
“I loved being able to think on my feet,” Scharff said.
It became clear to Scharff that DECA was helping him develop confidence and meet new people, and he wanted it to do the same for more students, so Scharff ran to be club president his junior year.
Scharff won, and he made it his mission to grow the club’s membership while also providing more opportunities for members to get involved. He helped decide the club’s community service projects and designed marketing materials and campaigns. He developed regular seminars and a three-week “training camp” to help members practice for role play competitions.
“I never imagined I would be the president of a club of over 500 kids,” Scharff said. “To have that opportunity was insane.”
Scharff’s immediate future doesn’t seem to fit with his DECA background. Scharff at one point wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, and he sat in on a cybersecurity class, and a discussion about using technical computer skills to prevent Russian hackers from interfering with American elections captured his attention.
“That was so cool to me,” Scharff said, “how you can use something people wouldn’t necessarily think of to defend the country.”
Scharff now plans to attend the University of Georgia and major in cybersecurity, but he also sees a scenario where his involvement in DECA will be beneficial for his future. Scharff plans to complete a program at Georgia that allows students to get an undergraduate degree and master’s degree in five years; Scharff wants a master’s in business administration. He might start his own cybersecurity company one day, he said.
“I could still build off the things I have learned in high school through DECA and marketing to put myself in a situation where I could do two things I wanted to do,” Scharff said.