Karleigh Stone Special to the Jewish News
Distinguished, poised and talented: Seaholm’s Melanie Taylor.
Melanie Taylor, daughter of Alan and Linda Taylor and sister of Joshua, 15, of Birmingham, is Michigan’s 2018 Distinguished Young Woman, and “distinguished” is just the beginning when it comes to Taylor. She is poised, hard-working, talented and humble. She has a heart to serve others and a drive to accomplish so much.
Distinguished Young Women is a scholarship program for high school juniors and seniors who are among the top young women in the country in education and leadership. The contest consists of scholastics, an interview, a talent portion, a fitness test and self-expression, and aims to award girls who are well-spoken and prepared to go out into the workforce and make a difference.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have Melanie represent us, our state and the Jewish community,” says Angela Bobo, Michigan Distinguished Young Woman director. “Melanie is the first Jewish young woman to represent Michigan. We are proud of her commitment to her faith, excellence in all she does and her drive to succeed.”
In addition to this honor, Taylor is a straight-A student who is WXYZ’s 2018 “Brightest & Best” at Seaholm High School, a member of the National Honor Society, a two-time varsity Scholar-Athlete, a winner of two Michigan Interscholastic Press Association Awards and a Flex Program Harvard Book Award Recipient.
Her accolades don’t stop with academic honors. Taylor is involved in a number of extracurricular and volunteer activities, too. She is editor-in-chief of Seaholm’s newspaper, a captain of the Maple Motion Varsity Dance Team, a member of the Dance Academy of Bloomfield Hills’ Senior Company, president of Seaholm’s mock trial, part of the Make Me a Maple Freshman Mentorship executive board and much more.
Her community service endeavors include serving as a madricha at Temple Israel’s Tyner Religious School, as Derby Middle School’s musical assistant choreographer and as assistant dance coach for the Detroit Delegation Maccabi Games.
“Everything I do is intertwined, and I’ve come into a lot of leadership positions in the groups I’m involved with,” she says. “I moved up through the editorial board on newspaper, and I was captain this year on dance team. It’s the motivation to create a legacy and to give back to the programs that made me who I am.”
Karen Gordon, JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest co-delegation head, says Taylor’s work with the Maccabi dance team is motivating to the girls she works with.
“As an athlete, she competed with grace both on and off the dance floor. She was always quick to lend a helping hand to not only her teammates, but also those from other delegations and in the host community,” Gordon says. “The girls look up to her leadership, dance success and energy. Her accomplishments both in and out of the competitive arena are inspiring.”
Alicia Mendelson, family educator and madrichim coordinator at Tyner Religious School, agrees. “Melanie is an exceptional young lady. Her amiability, kindness and compassion allow her to easily engage with her students as she fosters their learning and growth in every respect,” Mendelson says. “Amongst the most important aspects of a madrich’s role is to exemplify the type of young adult that students should aspire to be. As an excellent student herself, a competitive dancer and a dedicated volunteer, she’s a natural role-model and inspiration.”
Taylor makes sure her community service involves the programs that helped shape who she is and positively impact the Jewish and Birmingham communities.
“As a madricha, I’m at the point now where the kids that I tutored for their bar/bat mitzvahs are now becoming madrichim themselves, so that’s amazing that it’s come full circle,” she says. “I really feel like I’m teaching kids Hebrew, preparing them for the bimah and making them think about the scripture and what they’re reading.”
Not only does her volunteer work allow her to leave a legacy in the communities that mean so much to her, but her time as a madricha and with Maccabi have allowed her to stay in touch with her Jewish faith and create her own religious identity.
“I’ve learned a lot about Judaism going back to the classroom as a madricha year after year. It’s so important for me to still know Hebrew because it’s a huge part of my Jewish identity,” Taylor says. “Staying involved allows me to think about Judaism on my own terms as opposed to just being fed a religious school experience. It gives me a more intimate relationship with my religion because it’s something I developed on my own.”
Taylor knows she didn’t get to where she is today alone, and she credits her family, teachers, dance coach and volunteer advisers. She’s learned a lot from their mentorship.
“Being able to listen to and take other people’s advice is the most valuable thing I’ve learned,” she says. “It’s knowing your own priorities but allowing others around you to help in what you want to do. That’s super important and allows you to become successful.”
With an impressive resume behind her, what’s in store for Taylor’s future? To start, she’s heading to Mobile, Ala., in June to compete in the Distinguished Young Women National Finals. Then, it’s off to Ann Arbor in the fall to pursue a degree in linguistics at the University of Michigan. While at U-M, she plans to be just as involved as she was in high school and is hoping to write for the Michigan Daily, join the hip hop dance troupe and investigate Greek life.
She plans to eventually become a lawyer.