It was a magical and eventful summer for Thomas County Central High School students Grayson Jones and Allyson “Ally” Moore. The current seniors, both 17, spent part of their summer vacation immersed in the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program.
Held at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro this year, GHP gathered some of the brightest and most innovative youth minds for a month-long educational experience that surpassed the traditional classroom.
“I don't think there's another word that sums it up quite like ‘magical,’” Jones said. “It's not just the classes or the dances, but the small moments with friends that really make this program what it is. Even walking to the dining hall felt so special because you were constantly surrounded by like-minded people who understand you and everything you love.”
Eventful is how Moore describes GHP.
“There was never a dull moment,” she said. “I was always doing something, whether it was learning in class or having fun afterward.”
Participants have major and minor study areas. Jones’ major was communicative arts. She loved the people she met, like her hallmate Jay and the teachers who instructed her.
“I especially loved Gillian’s slam poetry class because of how encouraging she was,” Jones said. “We could write and perform anything in her class without fear of scrutiny or judgment. I always loved her stories about fun things she and her fiancé do for each other, and I will always miss her Edgar Allen Poe-themed music.”
Jones minored in education.
“I've always wanted to be a teacher, and when I saw that the minor was being offered again this year, I was ecstatic,” she said. “We had to rank four choices for our minors, and none of them sounded nearly as exciting as education did, so I was really crossing my fingers for it.”
Moore majored in agricultural science, and while her study area didn’t turn out quite as she anticipated, she did expand her plant knowledge.
“I had such limited knowledge about them,” she said. “I learned all of their parts and got to grow multiple different kinds.”
Handcrafting was her minor and happy place.
“We pretty much stuck to crochet the whole month,” she said of her minor. “My favorite memory from GHP was my crochet class. I had a really good group of friends that made me laugh every day, even if my major was hard. We talked about so much and got to make little stuffed animals and sweaters, too!”
But they learned more than content-area material; both students said GHP taught them valuable personal lessons.
The OK not to be perfect at all times helped Jones embrace GHP’s rigorous schedule. On her first day, one of her communicative arts teachers wrote “success is not an option” on the whiteboard. Although initially horrified, Jones learned what the statement meant – she had room to fail too – and felt gratitude.
“He explained that we would be given more work than we could possibly handle, but he also amended his statement,” Jones recalled. “He told us that success would not be an option, but neither would failure.
“GHP really taught me to be okay with not excelling at everything. Those five teachers did everything in their power to help us succeed, and when we were too exhausted to do that, they created a space that made us feel safe enough to fail in.”
Moore learned to push herself when in new environments.
“I got out of my comfort zone a lot while I was at GHP, and it helped me learn a lot about myself and make more meaningful connections with the people around me,” she said.
Both cherished witnessing others showcase their talents, too. For instance, Moore liked any opportunity to see her peers in action.
“My favorite part of the entire experience was the days we got to see everyone’s talents,” she said. “The concerts and coffeehouses, as well as the awesome science and engineering fair. Everyone was so incredible at what they did, and it was always so cool to see.”
Jones enjoyed the Prism concerts, a twice-held collaboration between all music department areas. During Prism II, on the program’s last night, each area performed a short goodbye, and the final song struck an emotional chord.
“The vocal majors went last with a song that they believed represented the program,” she said. “When I say it was the most beautiful performance of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ I mean it. I don't think I'll ever listen to that song in the same way again. It was our last big moment of community where we were sharing something made at the program, and it was incredibly emotional.”
Now back home and settled into their senior year, GHP is an adventure they’re glad they took.
“The most surprising part to me was for the first two weeks, I was so busy and excited I was not even thinking about going home,” Moore said. “This surprised me because I thought I would hate being away, but now I realize I can do it.”
GHP requires a commitment to its purpose, but it’s worth the effort, Jones said.
“This program was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I would do it over again a million times,” she said. “I sat in classes for six hours a day, read for hours after that, and still made time to go to concerts, seminars, and hang out with my friends before 10:30 p.m. hall check. The people alone make the program worth it.”
Also, they encourage other youth to consider GHP.
“I would describe GHP as an experience you will never forget,” Moore said. “It is full of fun and laughter, and you are surrounded by tons of other people who are as passionate as you are. It is an amazing experience before college, and you will learn so much.”
GHP finalists earn slots based on their academic achievements, teacher recommendations and interviews. Jones hopes more students from rural areas have the opportunity to attend the program, as most finalists she encountered were from the Metro Atlanta area.
“Some of their schools operated like or had the same resources that GHP had,” she said. “However, some would learn where I was from and ask if there were cows down there. I think there are plenty of Georgia's best and brightest down here that could even out the demographics a bit.”