Since taking up the piano at age 5, Elliott Shackelford has performed thousands of concerts nationwide.
All that changed, however, with one message the Cumming resident received three years ago.
“Columbia [University] had sent me an e-mail and I had not been aware of this particular program,” said Shackelford, who was operating a music education studio.
“The more I pursued it … the more I recognized this was definitely the best place for me to be.”
Not only did Shackelford stick with the university’s political science program, he recently graduated as the 2011 salutatorian.
Shackelford credits his academic success to his musical background.
“There’s a discipline that comes from being in the arts,” he said. “When you start very young, you work very hard on one thing to really develop it. I think that creates discipline and determination and a particular mind-set.”
During his time at Columbia, Shackelford also volunteered, serving as a tour guide and member of the school’s general studies committee.
“Elliot has been fully immersed in the intellectual life of the university and the community life of the campus,” said Peter J. Awn School of General Studies dean.
“His service to the school, the university, and the local community has been exemplary and a true benefit to all who have had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Shackelford said he plans to return to his home in Cumming, but not until he earns his law degree from Harvard, California or Stanford universities.
While he’s looking into practicing international law, Shackelford said he’ll miss teaching music to children at his Roswell studio.
“[I] developed the talents of a lot of really amazing students,” he said. “But I think I’ll always continue to keep my hands in music in one degree or another.
“It’s been part of my life and something I’ve loved my entire life.”