With matching 4.42 grade point averages, Camille "Cami" Taylor and Tarrell Charles emerged as co-valedictorians at Melrose High School. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

To say Camille “Cami” Taylor and Tarrell Charles were fierce academic rivals at Melrose High School would be inaccurate.

As a matter of fact, Taylor and Charles are “best buds.” Not only were they school mates, they both work in FedEx hub.

Both were eyeing that valedictorian spot well before senior year. Both were determined to succeed. Both did.

Two parallel lives, leading to the same destination. In the Orange Mound “village,” their paths were bound to cross.

Camille Taylor

 Taylor is the “baby” in her family. From the time she was born, the Taylor family has lived in the same housing community in Orange Mound.

Although there wasn’t much money, Taylor and her four siblings enjoyed the love and care of two parents in the household – Thomas and Marilyn Taylor.

Thomas Taylor remembers when “Orange Mound, TN” was in its heyday and the time before he attended Melrose. Since then, blight, crime and widespread business closings have seriously challenged the community and many other African-American neighborhoods.

One constant has been Melrose High School. It closed briefly for renovations, but the school has educated generations of the same families for decades.

Cami Taylor, a product of Melrose’s continuing legacy, would be a child of promise.

No one in the family had ever made it to college. But she would. When she graduated eighth-grade as class salutatorian, Cami decided that second place just wasn’t good enough. By the 10th-grade, she was number one.

Cami was determined to stay there.

“Science has always been my favorite subject,” she said. “I also had an interest in aviation, but flying a plane does not appeal to me as much as becoming an OB/GYN

“In college, I plan to keep up the great academic work and graduate with honors. I want my parents to continue to be proud of me.”

Melrose has remained the center of the village. It continues to be the place where staff and faculty encourage and empower students to become their best.

Parents, who no longer have school-aged children at Melrose, still come to volunteer.

 Tarrell Charles

 Held back in kindergarten, Charles never forgot the humiliation. When he finally got to the first grade, he was seven. Most of his time was spent alone, a latch-key kid.

“My mother had to work every day, except weekends to support me,” Tarrell said. “Unfortunately, after I finished first grade, I had to say ‘goodbye’ to all my school friends because we had to move.”

That traumatic move was the first of many, Tarrell said. From one low-income apartment complex to another, Tarrell and his mother tried to make a home.    He rides by some of those same apartments today. Many of them have since been partially torn down and abandoned.

“I had to transfer four times to different elementary schools,” he said. “That made me angry inside. As soon as I got settled into a new school, we had to move again. I was always the new kid.”

In the seventh grade, a STEM class opened up new worlds and possibilities.

“I knew right away I wanted to be a game developer,” said Tarrell.

By the ninth grade, he had locked onto a serious attitude toward his studies.

“I decided that I was going into this school, and I will do the best I can do,” Tarrell said. “I knew high school really mattered, and I was determined to do every thing I could to succeed. I came in with the number one spot, and I held on to it all the way to my senior year.”

Tarrell immersed himself in school life, becoming involved in the Student Council, Student Congress and the Memphis Youth City Council.

Now he’s on his way to Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla.

“It is my dream college,” he said. “I am on my way to my dream job.”

And so, Melrose boasts two standouts, both with a GPA of 4.22. On a four-point system, extra points are acquired with AP and Honors courses.

Do they mind sharing the top spot? Not really. They both have the same response:

“It’s cool.”