Three Thomas County Central High School students experienced a unique brand of magic when they attended the 2022 Georgia Governor’s Honors Program.
Seniors Sofia Jimenez, Tessa Thomas and Savannah Taylor spent four weeks at Berry College in Rome, participating in the summer intensive that assembles some of the state’s brightest minds for accelerated learning opportunities.
“I spent my summer at GHP because it is what I was 100 percent meant to do,” Savannah Taylor said. “I feel like everyone has moments that change them forever, and GHP did that to me. I felt the ‘GHP magic,’ and I don't think I will ever forget it. I wish I could explain in eloquent words what the ‘GHP magic’ is, but all I can say is you have to go there to really experience it.”
Open to rising juniors and seniors, students must have a nomination in a specific field – or major – from their school and approval from the GHP selection committee to attend the program.
Taylor was a theater performance major. Her classes focused on various acting and technical activities like ensemble building, scenic painting and improv games.
“Theater is my first love in life, and I chose to pursue it at GHP so that I could further develop my craft,” she said. “At GHP, we talked about why we loved theater, and my teachers told me that no matter what they censor in the world, people can always go to the theater to find the truth. No one can silence the stories told on stage.”
Sofia Jimenez’s major was social studies and included a range of disciplines such as psychology, history and economics.
“We had two classes a day, so I was able to learn a lot of new things and expand my knowledge on things I already knew about,” she said. “Every week, we would get two new classes, so I was very full of knowledge by the fourth week.”
Tessa Thomas was a Jazz vibraphone music major and attended to learn about various field aspects not usually available to high school students, such as conducting, music technology and Jazz history. The group had only six students plus their instructor, which meant plenty of time to explore and experiment.
“I had a great instructor and grew in my ability more in just the first week of instruction than even I could believe between constant soloing and learning new techniques and being exposed to new charts and styles,” Thomas said. “We would often spend time playing different pieces as well as listening to different pieces in order to incorporate different styles [and] techniques and create a healthy ensemble environment.”
Additionally, all students had the chance to pursue a minor outside their major’s purview. Jimenez and Thomas chose visual arts, specifically ceramics.
“[It] was something way out of my comfort zone but ended up being a really fun experience,” Jimenez said.
Thomas said GHP encouraged students to pick a minor that would be unlike anything they’d done before.
“While I've always been involved in the performing arts, visual arts was something I never truly was exposed to,” Thomas said. “The minor taught us how to create pieces using one process, and at the end, we were able to take home our finished piece(s).”
Taylor chose philosophy, where she and her classmates discussed topics such as existentialism and freewill versus predeterminism. She left class questioning life daily.
“I wanted to challenge myself intellectually and expand my ways of thinking,” she said. “We had a running joke in my philosophy class that it was a ‘no toga zone’ because we only discussed Eastern philosophy because American students are already heavily exposed to Western philosophy.”
Before attending, these students hoped to gain fresh perspectives, learn something new and make friends. Upon their return, all said their hopes became a reality.
“The program is very intimidating already, but making the most of it is really about putting yourself out there,” Thomas said. “The lesson I learned from GHP was just to be open to new things. GHP offered new experiences in a safe environment, which gave everyone the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone. It allowed me to make connections both within and outside my area of study and personally grow in multiple ways.”
Jimenez made friends she speaks with regularly and ventured outside her comfort zone.
“GHP motivated me to be more social and reach out to others instead of waiting for others to reach out to me and how to step out of my comfort zone and try new things,” she said. “Since I plan on pursuing a career in social studies in the future, these skills are very important.”
And they all felt that – as dubbed in their introduction ceremony and highlighted by Taylor – “GHP magic.”
“From what I heard, GHP was a great experience, and I wanted to be a part of that experience,” Jimenez said. “... The experience, or the ‘GHP Magic’, is what I really went for.”
Thomas said participants joked about this so-called magic – at first.
“... We were told in our introduction ceremony that it would change us, and none of us really believed it,” Thomas said. “I promise by the end of the program, everyone who saw it through felt that magic. It really is a life-changing event.”
It certainly transformed Taylor’s mindset: she recaptured her childhood wonder and left GHP motivated to pursue all her dreams.
“GHP brought me back to what it feels like to think the world is yours,” Taylor said. “I felt the excitement of a five-year-old before a field trip each and every day. But I learned that the excitement I felt did not have to end, and I have gained a new outlook on life in general.”
Taylor learned that life is what she makes it.
“At the end of the day, life is what you make it,” she said. “Your mindset and outlook predetermine the kind of life you live. GHP taught me to be passionate, motivated and committed to everything I do in order to grow. I learned to take life by the reins but also to just let life happen.”