“Through the Academy of the Arts at North Cobb Christian School, I toured Belmont for the first time,” said Girma, known as “Mele” to her friends. “I got to see how vibrant and how alive the music business is down there. I saw how much there is to pursue beyond just performance. From the first time I toured it I knew that was where I wanted to go.”
She doesn’t have to worry about paying for her dream school, either. Girma was one of only 1,000 students nationally to win the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which pays for all costs of attending school for up to 10 years. Advanced degrees are covered as well, as long as they’re earned within a decade. The 1,000 students were chosen from 52,000 applicants who wrote a series of eight essays about themselves.
“It’s very much an intense review of what I’ve done over my high school career,” she said. “I had to go into community service, opportunities I’ve gotten and leadership pursuits.”
She plans to major in songwriting and music business at Belmont and is already looking at graduate schools, perhaps at nearby Vanderbilt University.
Girma isn’t a fan of country music, the genre most often associated with Nashville. Her love is worship music and jazz.
“I perform, but I’ve also been getting into songwriting,” she said. “Songwriting has grown to be more of my heart. In fact, my youth group at church just this week released an album of music we have written and recorded. Some of the songs I wrote were sung by other people. I’ve been seeing the strength and beauty in that as well.”
Girma doesn’t shy away from singing, though, and she has played the piano since she was 5. Along with worship music, she likes to write what she calls “jazzy alternative pop.”
Girma attends Mt. Paran Church in Atlanta, where she’s involved in the children’s ministry, the youth choir, youth student leadership and youth worship team. Mission trips have taken her as far away as Bolivia and Haiti and as close as downtown Atlanta.
A unique voice
In 10 years, she’ll be a successful song writer and worship leader, according to North Cobb Christian choral director Amy Wallace.
“I know the people that she comes in contact with will want to work with her,” she said. “Her heart to lead others in worship is so apparent and truthfully contagious. Her voice is captivating and it draws you in.”
Wallace has known Girma since her freshman year of high school. She said Girma came in as a timid ninth-grader and is now graduating with boldness. Wallace described her voice as truly unique.
“It’s soft and sweet, but has a nice jazz influence to it,” she said. “I love the simplicity she sings with.”
Faith is a huge part of Girma’s identity. Her faith is so strong that when she received her letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she prayed with her mother before opening it.
“The deciding factor was in the envelope,” she said. “We prayed for a solid half hour beforehand, getting ourselves in the right position to know God would provide regardless of what was in that envelope. When I opened it I fell to my knees and thanked him. We just rejoiced together.”
Girma said she was able to keep a cool head, resisting the temptation to rip into the envelope, because of the peace she has through the Lord.
“We just prayed and read different passages,” she said of the prayer session with her mother. “We read a passage in Genesis where Abraham is going to sacrifice Isaac. He’s going on the mountain and at the last minute, God provides an alternate sacrifice. God made a way when it seemed there was no way. I was waiting on this scholarship for so long. The day before, the night before I’d been praying. I had so much peace.”
At school, Girma has been involved in Student Government, Eagles Ambassadors, Chapel Club and Teacher Cadets. She is an active member of the Academy Singers through the Academy of the Arts. Most recently, she appeared in a production of the “Sound of Music.” In addition, she is the president of the National Honor Society, a member of the Beta Club, the historian for the Tri-M Music Honor Society and a member of the NCCS Student Government.
Wallace said Girma will be missed at the school.
“I think Mele is well-respected by our student body and is considered a leader here, not just spiritually, but a leader in service,” she said. “She has a bright perspective on life and chooses to see the Lord first in all she does.”