Growing up in a poor, single-parent household in Atlanta, Deon Jones didn't know what he wanted to do when he grew up. But he knew “that life had something greater in store, as long as I aimed for excellence in everything I did,” something he learned from his hero Oprah Winfrey.
Now a political science major in his junior year, Jones is excelling in ways he never imagined: being elected a local public official, advocating for youth justice, interning for Congress and the Vice President's office, and receiving a prestigious public policy fellowship. Most recently, he was selected as a Truman Scholar, a highly competitive, national award.
He enrolled in AU sight unseen after a chance encounter with a university recruiter in an Atlanta hotel lobby.
“I'd never even been above the Mason-Dixon line,” Jones says. His experience at AU has far exceeded his expectations – but then again, Jones has also exceeded any expectations that could have been set for him.
Elected to office
One such surprise victory was winning a contested seat on the DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission, to serve as the student voice for the neighborhood surrounding the AU campus. Jones, then a freshman, got a crash course in campaigning, having to file a petition, knock on doors, and station himself at the polls from morning to night on election day.
“The first person I ever voted for was myself,” jokes the 19-year-old.
Jones gained the trust of his considerably older colleagues on the commission, who eventually elected him treasurer. While he left his post to do a study-abroad program in London, two students got elected to the council after Jones, “continuing the legacy of our youth bringing community members and students together,” he says.
Leadership Program's influence
Jones also credits the SPA Leadership Program as one of the most influential elements of his academic journey, giving him “an opportunity to study different social movements and an understanding of why public policy is so important,” says Jones. “The program has catapulted me into a life of public service.”
This summer, the Mississippi-born student will get a chance to further expand his knowledge and contacts in the field, as a Public Policy and International Affairs fellow at UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. Jones will attend classes, take professional development workshops, and go on field trips to see public policy in action.
It's just another stop for a young leader on the go. This spring, Jones is studying political philosophy and business during a semester abroad at King's College, London. While he intended to keep a low profile on campus and enjoy a break from his busy DC life, he has already been inducted into the Meritorious Society for Study Abroad Students at King’s College.
And then there was his run-in with Vice President Joe Biden.
Jones only saw the vice president a handful of times while interning, but did his best to work hard, be a team player and treat people with respect. The vice president happened to be in London recently, and Jones was invited to his meet-and-greet at the U.S. embassy. Working his way through the room, Biden came over to the former White House intern.
“When he got to me, he said, 'Hey kiddo! What are you doing here? You jumped the career ladder that fast?'” said Jones. “To be in a foreign country, and have the vice president remember me because of my attitude put a whole new spin on my perspective on excellence.”
Meanwhile, those once-undefined dreams of greatness are starting to take shape.
“I definitely want to go to law school, and work to change the juvenile justice system in our country,” says Jones, who is a national spokesperson for Campaign for Youth Justice, which works to end the incarceration of youth in adult jails and prisons.