Vandalia senior Autumn Payne is ready to spread her wings. While Autumn spent most of her childhood wanting to be a dental hygienist, her recent experience through Vandalia High School’s CEO caused her to declare business and finance her new focal point. She will attend Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in the fall.
Reflecting on her journey, Autumn shares, “It’s exciting. It is a little bit scary. Obviously, I’ve never taken a step like this before. But it’s exciting because our whole life, especially in a small town like Vandalia, we’ve been sheltered from a lot. Now we finally get to jump off and see what the real world is like, and we can decide whether we want to come back to Vandalia or spread our wings somewhere else.”
Autumn’s decision to study on the coast was influenced by the recent loss of her grandmother, whom she describes as her ‘best friend,’ and ‘inspiration for everything.’ Autumn’s grandmother’s favorite place in the world was the beach, a love she passed on to Autumn through their numerous vacations to the ocean, including multiple cruises and a trip to the Bahamas.
Autumn shares that losing her grandmother ‘opened my eyes.’ While she always assumed she’d attend Lakeland Community College, Autumn realized she might enjoy branching out to get away and explore somewhere new the way her grandmother used to on vacation.
“Hopefully, I’ll be a part of a lot of organizations. I plan to be very involved. I’d like to be in the cheer club. I’d like to join a sorority. I want to be a very involved student on campus,” says Autumn. She adds, “I got involved in the CEO program, which introduced me to a whole different world that I didn’t know.”
Through the CEO program, Autumn’s been able to learn from area business owners and co-found her own business, Diamond Detail. Diamond Detail is an automotive detailing company that focuses exclusively on internal detailing. She’s made roughly $3,500 in revenue with minimal expenses. While I won’t disclose her and her co-founders’ secrets, their expenses are calculated to a small range and depend on the type of car and package purchased. She shares that they initially undercharged and learned from their mistakes; they’ve since made adjustments and created strong profit margins.
Learning from one’s mistakes isn’t new to Autumn, who is Vandalia’s high school cheer captain. Autumn is also the team’s flyer and uses the experience as a metaphor for life; she has to fall down and get back up repeatedly.
While Autumn’s tried many sports, her high school cheer experience was the most rewarding. When reflecting on why, she credits the relationships built with her teammates, her coach, and the community. She credits her coach as a role model who “hasn’t just taught us how to cheer, she taught us how to get through life.”
She adds that in Vandalia, “Everyone is close. We are seriously just one giant family. There’s not much to do, but weirdly we make the most of it. If you go anywhere in public, you will see someone you know. Everyone watches out for you.”
In the fall, when Autumn spreads her wings and experiences life independently outside of Vandalia for the first time, one thing is certain. Whether she moves back to town after college or to visit, Vandalia will always be the giant family to which she’ll be welcome to return. She’ll be able to share life lessons with the community, just as the community and especially her grandmother and cheerleading coach shared with her.