Walnut Creek’s Keara Cameron iS Writing Her Own Unexpected Story

Walnut Creek Campus 2024 graduate Keara Cameron is a huge fan of reading, especially science fiction. She favors “mind-boggling” stories where “you never see the end coming” and names acclaimed young adult science fiction author Neal Shusterman as her favorite writer. Her own story doesn’t feature aliens or futuristic technology, but to her, it is similarly unexpected. Determination and an openness to opportunities led her down a path she once did not see for herself. She referenced the change in mindset that she experienced during her high school career in a speech at Walnut Creek’s graduation on May 23.

A few years ago, when I first walked through the doors of Walnut Creek, if someone told me I would be standing here today, addressing all of you, I would have laughed and looked for the nearest exit. Public speaking? Not my cup of tea. But here I am, taking the first step on my second thousand-mile journey. — Keara Cameron
Keara's senior photo. | Keara speaking at graduation. | Keara holding a chick at Walnut Creek Campus.

Her first journey started with what she describes as not being “dealt the best cards in life.” Tough circumstances had her moving from school to school, attending Phenix Elementary, Crestview School of Inquiry, Hillside Elementary, and Stilwell Junior High before enrolling at Walnut Creek after just a few days at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School. The transition was a huge help to her as she struggled with anxiety, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was orbiting my parents,” Keara said of her uncertainty at that time. “Walnut Creek really brought me out of my shell. Nothing could have helped me more than the people there.”

The tight-knit, supportive community at Walnut Creek eventually helped Keara gain confidence and start exploring new opportunities, but at first, even eating in front of others in the cafeteria was overwhelming. Instead, she ate in the nurse’s office, which led to one of her strongest relationships at school, with school nurse Roberta Malloy.

School and learning are her safe space. I just became a safe spot for her to talk about what was going on in her life. — Roberta Malloy

Keara credits Malloy for being her “rock” and “guiding light,” encouraging her and empowering her to feel pride in all of her accomplishments. When she would try to minimize any recognition, Malloy was there to remind her to take pride in her growth.

“It was never about the size of my achievements,” Keara said in a section of her graduation speech dedicated to Malloy. “You simply wanted me to know you were proud of me, no matter what.”

Keara preparing plants and painting plant pots for the Walnut Creek Plant Sale.

As she grew in confidence, Keara started to branch out at Walnut Creek, exploring activities like the Plant Sale and taking a “Behind Bars” course that explores the criminal justice system for Language Arts and Social Studies credit. The Plant Sale allowed her to take on a leadership role and gave her an outlet to create art, something she has loved since the art classes at Stilwell Junior HIgh. But the real-life stories and experiences she saw during the “Behind Bars” class stoked her drive to attend college — something she had always wanted to do without knowing where to start. With encouragement from Malloy and other staff members, Keara began looking into her college options.

Keara could have graduated in 2023 after reaching her graduation requirements early. Instead, she decided to use her additional time in high school to explore even more opportunities. While still a Walnut Creek student, Keara enrolled in several courses at Valley including Business Law, Culinary Arts, and Child Development. The schedule meant she had to be out the door at 6:30 a.m. each day and spend extra time being bused from building to building, but she did not hesitate in the pursuit of further learning.

“She just loves school so much — her whole face lights up when she’s talking about anything with school,” Malloy said. “Her overall drive and passion are amazing.”

Now, Keara plans to use what she’s learned to study criminal justice or criminology at the University of Northern Iowa and become a family lawyer. After researching the many options for studying law, she landed on family law as a way to proactively support other young people. To Malloy, this is an extension of Keara’s ability to make everyone feel welcome.

For Keara, those helpers were the Walnut Creek staff. She thanked several staff members in her graduation speech but gave a special shout out to her “holy trinity” of senior year: Malloy, “Behind Bars” teacher and Plant Sale adviser Randi Glaser, and social studies teacher Jessica Kiburz, who helped navigate the overwhelming world of college finances. That work paid off when Keara was awarded a $2,500 scholarship from Prairie Meadows at Walnut Creek’s graduation. The scholarship and Keara’s willingness to explore so many opportunities will both ease the way as she begins her college career.

Keara’s graduation speech was full of gratitude but also highlighted her own newfound courage and conviction, things that led her to embody West Des Moines Community Schools’ hopes for students — that they become lifelong learners and truly find joy in learning. Support from Walnut Creek staff and her siblings, especially sister Ani, “empowered me to pursue my dreams in confidence and determination” — and through those traits, she forged her own path forward. With that in mind, her advice to peers was to take advantage of opportunities and “just go for it.”

I encourage you to embrace the journey ahead with courage, determination, and an open heart. Remember, every journey begins with that first step. So let’s take that step together and see where it leads us. — Keara Cameron
Keara speaking at Walnut Creek Campus' graduation on May 23.

We never know what choices will lead to defining moments in our lives. A glance to the left instead of right could define who we meet and who passes us by. Our life path can be determined by a single phone call we make, or neglect to make. ― Neal Shusterman, “The Toll”