When Megan Clark stood in front of Circuit Court Judge Kimberly White and raised her hand to take the oath of office—an office that had never previously been held by a woman or an African American—she felt the weight of history.
"It was a packed courtroom," said Clark ’05, who was elected to serve as the Prince Edward County Commonwealth’s Attorney in November and was sworn in Monday, Jan. 4. "I glanced out at the people there and understood very clearly that this was bigger than me, and I was honored to be a part of history."
Clark’s journey began at Longwood, where her mother, Dr. Theresa Clark, is a longtime professor and chair of the Department of Social Work and Communication Sciences and Disorders. As a child, Megan played with her sister in the hallways of academic buildings and accompanied her mother on trips to educational conferences. Even at that young age, Clark was aware of the university’s mission to develop citizen leaders, and it struck a deep chord.
"I always knew I wanted to live a life where service was at the center," said Clark. "It was never explicit, but the idea of giving back has been a constant undertone. I watched my parents get involved with the community and my church make inclusion and service high priorities for the congregation."
Clark’s family story is one that could have unfolded only in Prince Edward County. The lives of both her mother and father were changed by the infamous school closings. Her mother, the future Longwood professor, rode to school in a neighboring county, where her father was a math teacher; her father, Lorenzo, a talented baseball player, began his own excavating business. Megan Clark and her sister, Shelley Clark-Reed, assistant principal at Prince Edward County Elementary School, grew up immersed in a community where struggle was the norm. The lessons of their childhood inspired both to be forces for positive change in their own communities.
"Megan has always been a well-rounded individual who is always willing to help," said Theresa Clark. "She and her sister traveled with me to community and educational meetings when they were young and gained their own perspectives about service to humankind. I’m very proud that she’s a graduate of Longwood, where I’ve spent much of my professional life, and I feel that she embodies the spirit of Longwood."
It was when Megan Clark became a Longwood student, however, that her philosophy began to crystallize. A moment early in her freshman year led to deep reflection that set her on the path she has since followed.
"When I arrived at Longwood, my classmates and I were asked to decide what citizen leadership means to us," said Clark. "After reflection, I came to the conclusion that it meant simply being a part of the community, having integrity and showing respect for people around you. So I tried my best to hold myself in a way so that no matter who was watching, I was showing my best face."
When she arrived at Longwood in 2001, she initially pursued journalism, and under the tutelage of beloved professor Bill Stuart, who led the formation of the Department of Communication Studies, she blossomed into a talented writer and researcher. Then another idea surfaced, and she followed it through to a law degree at William & Mary.
"Initially I thought I’d go into defense work," she said, "because it struck this chord of social justice that resonated inside me. But after speaking with some people who worked in the public sphere, I realized that I could be just as much a force for good and justice as a prosecutor as I could on the other side of the aisle."
Clark spent time in the Appomattox County commonwealth’s attorney’s office before taking a job in Henrico County, where she worked for six years. The idea of returning home to serve the community she loved was always with her, however. When longtime Prince Edward Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Ennis announced in January 2015 he would retire at the end of the year, Clark moved back immediately and announced her candidacy.
"I believe there’s been a lot of progress in this community in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go," said Clark. "My campaign was run on fairness, better communication and a community-minded approach to law enforcement. I think these things are achievable, but it’s going to take a lot of work. That’s the essence of citizen leadership: having integrity and bringing that into the community around you."