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Nelson County alumna wins national art award

Nelson County High School alumna Kiley Mullins received the National High School Heart of the Arts Award from the National Federation of State High School Associations earlier this month.

On May 10, Mullins, her family and Nelson County theater students gathered in the Nelson County High School auditorium to celebrate.

The Heart of the Arts Award is awarded each year “to commend individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive heart of the arts and represent the core mission of education-based activities,” according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Mullins graduated in 2023 and currently attends the University of North Carolina School of Arts, where she is studying theater management.

During her time in Nelson, Mullins established the Love Each Other Fund to help provide Nelson County students with art education opportunities.

Shawn Knight, assistant director of the junior high school league which is part of the National Federation of State High School Associations, presented Mullins with the award.

“It’s really neat to present awards in front of their peers, in front of their communities,” Knight said.

Diana Driver, fine arts director at Nelson County High School, began the presentation by introducing Knight and congratulating Mullins.

Knight then took the stage to talk about the award and about Mullins, and why she was chosen for the honor.

“Virginia High School League is part of the NFHS, much like Nelson County High School is part of the VHSL, VHSL is part of NFHS,” Knight said.

The national federation is split into eight sections, and Nelson County is in Section 2. There are six other states in the second section: Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio.

“The NFHS recognizes that our education-based activities are about much more than the arts; it’s about building community, strengthening community and mutual trust,” Knight said.

Knight said that the Heart of the Arts Award seeks to recognize students who are participating in performing arts that embody these factors.

Knight told the auditorium that he advocated strongly for Mullins to be recognized for the national award, not just the section award.

“She’s been invaluable to Ms. Driver in the theater program, not just with acting but in so many other capacities. She’s worked as a director with choreography, with lighting, set design, and she’s been involved and engaged with every aspect of productions,” Knight said.

Knight said it goes beyond the Nelson County High School stage. Mullins spends time in the community working and supporting other groups. She was also part of the National Honor Society and International Thespian Society.

“I want to encourage you all to look at her as an example to what the arts is all about. It really is about extending your reach beyond your space, and I believe that this lady has done just that, always looking for an opportunity to help someone else in their journey,” Knight said.

After Knight presented Mullins with the Heart of Arts Award, Mullins had her own chance to speak to the audience.

“It makes me really glad to look out and see all these people that I’ve worked with and taught over the years. I’m just overwhelmed with joy and gratitude,” Mullins said.

She said that without Nelson County High School, she wouldn’t be pursuing theater management.

“You all fueled my passion, and I appreciate everyone here,” Mullins said.

Mullins wouldn’t just be honored once that day.

During the Nelson County School Board meeting later in the day, Superintendent Amanda Hester presented Mullins with a certificate.

“It’s always great to celebrate current students, but it’s even better to see our graduates go on and continue to give back to the community and make the world a better place,” Hester said.

Hester said that Mullins’ Love Each Other Fund was one of the many great things she has done.

“We want to thank you for continuing to give back to Nelson County schools,” Hester said.


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