On June 17, 2018, a group of gifted and talented students from around the state gathered at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia. These teens were selected by teachers from their high schools to participate in the Governor’s Honors Program (GHP), a month-long educational and cultural experience held each year from mid-June to mid-July. Mary Lacey from Valwood School in Hahira, Georgia was among those chosen.
Mary is an extremely talented and driven 17-year old. When she found out one of her Valwood instructors had nominated her for the GHP, Mary did exactly what she was supposed to do: she got busy. Her next few days were spent writing numerous essays, creating a work of art based on a book that inspired her (a collage on “Nature” by Emerson), and hoping she would advance to the next level.
And of course, Mary advanced. So off to Berry College she went for round two.
The interviews at Berry College consisted of group discussions and one-on-one chats. “We had a passage to read that they had taken from a book,” recalls Mary. “They gave us 45 minutes to talk with other people – people competing for the same position – about what we had read in the book, the importance of this topic or that topic . . . They just said, ‘talk.’ And we did. After that, each one of us got an individual interview with a literary teacher.” According to Mary, the interviewers weren’t necessarily looking for applicants who could give a detailed book report; they were looking for those who were original and creative in their thinking.
The interviews ended. And Mary waited. Again.
Then came the email. Mary had made it into the GHP! “I was shocked! It kind of felt like a dream, really! I was so sure I was not getting in. There were so many other smart people in the room and so many other people who made great points.”
Mary had four weeks to fill out mountains of paperwork, make travel plans, and buy supplies. Then on June 16, she headed off to Berry College. Once she had settled herself in her dorm room, you’d think Mary would have been able to relax. Well, think again. Mary jumped headfirst into the program, picking a major of Communicative Arts and a Minor in Agricultural Science.
“Your major was given to you,” stated Mary, “You could choose your minor but they wanted you to do the complete opposite [of your major]. That’s why I chose Agricultural Science.” Major classes were held six days a week; minor classes were held for five. Students were encouraged to “switch things up” and “step out of their comfort zone” when choosing what to study. All of Mary’s major classes were communication-based, but they were never boring. Every week she got to choose two major classes to participate in. Each class was two hours long.
“[My favorite class] was called Absurd Theatre. It was something I had never really experienced before. It was about…Absurdism.” Mary laughs. “We got to write absurd plays. It was interesting.” Absurd Theatre explores absurdism, existentialism, and nihilism and how these concepts are represented in literature and film. Mary’s class was a very respectful, controlled debate. At the end, the students wrote a monologue or skit and then acted it out.
Mary remembers, “The thing that amazed me the most was that there was no yelling. It was really respectful. Everybody listened to what everyone else had to say and respected their point of view even if they didn’t agree with it. That was a really great experience!”
And let’s not forget Mary’s minor: Agricultural Science. “The livestock!” Mary exclaimed when asked what her favorite part of class was. “We would take a bus up to north campus. We got to pet the cows, see the calves, and see the milking facilities. They had goats and sheep. We even went to a beef cattle farm nearby that had pigs as well. [The instructor] even brought in chickens for us – her own chickens!”
Most of the instructors at GHP were retired or high school teachers. The professors were challenging yet helpful, provided constructive criticism on projects, and seemed to really love what they were doing. One teacher drove all the way from Texas in order to teach at the camp. When he was in high school, he had been a Georgia GHP recipient and loved it so much he decided to return as an instructor when he was able.
At the end of the four weeks, there was a mock graduation ceremony and the students were presented with a certificate of completion. No final projects were required, unless you count the “Coffee House,” where students had the option to sign up to present their paper, act out their skit, or read their poem. Teachers and students alike were invited to attend this casual event.
Seven hundred strangers with different backgrounds and areas of expertise were brought together for a month-long camp in order to enrich their academic, social and cultural lives. “There was a mutual friendship among everyone there that was really cool.” stated Mary. “There wasn’t a lot of bullying or misbehaving. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met were at this program.”
This was the 55th year of the Georgia GHP. The students were told funding for the program may be getting cut. Georgia is one of the few states that offers the GHP for free. This issue concerns Mary. “The magic of GHP is that so many different people from around the state get to come. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor…everyone gets the same experience.”
Aside from all the classes, Mary said she really learned a lot about people from different parts of Georgia and how they dealt with everyday tasks. And most importantly, Mary said, “I learned to be more confident in myself, which was a really good thing.”