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Making the grade for Governors Honors
SEHS duo heads to Valdosta for prestigious summer program
GHPers 1
Donald Quinones and Jordon Bala will begin their stint at Governors Honors Program this weekend. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

South Effingham High School’s Jordon Bala and Donald Quinones have a lot in common.

They just completed their junior year as two of the top students in their class. They work side-by-side as commentators for the school’s telecasts of SEHS football games. Both excel in extracurricular activities that sparked their interest as freshmen.

And both will represent Effingham County this summer in Georgia’s prestigious Governor’s Honors Program, hosted by Valdosta State University. Bala and Quinones will arrive at VSU on Sunday.

Bala was selected as a Theatre Performance major and Quinones was chosen in Executive Management for the residential summer program for talented high school juniors and seniors.

"Everyone keeps saying this is the chance of a lifetime," Bala said. "The amount of knowledge and abilities that I will obtain from attending GHP is, from what I understand, going to be absolutely phenomenal."

Bala was bitten by the acting bug at a young age and says since his freshman year he has "not missed (performing in) a single play" at the high school. One of his favorites was the challenge of acting in "Greater Tuna," a two-man show in which he played 10 different characters.

"To a lot of people, acting is just another hobby," Bala said. "But it’s what I want to do in life. It’s what I plan on attending college for and furthering my career in.

"It’s more of a passion than anything."

The same is true for Quinones’ interest in business. He has taken several business courses at SEHS and been involved since ninth grade in Future Business Leaders of America, an organization he now serves as a regional officer.

"Business just seemed like one of the things that I wanted to do the most, because it combines how to run a company and how to be a leader," Quinones said. "I love that feeling of being engaged by the subject."

Both students credit their extracurricular endeavors with helping them make the cut as two of only 690 students statewide selected for the 2012 Governor’s Honors Program. More than 2,900 students in 20 areas of study were interviewed and auditioned this year.

Bala was one of only 28 students selected for GHP among the 204 who auditioned in Theatre Performance, while Quinones was one of just 16 finalists from 87 nominees in Executive Management.

"I think what helped me out more than anything with getting to Governor’s Honors was FBLA – because it showed the interviewers and those who looked over my application that I had gone outside the classroom. I had shown extra initiative and had performed well, like placing in various events in FBLA," said Quinones, who qualified for this year’s national FBLA competition but cannot participate because it conflicts with Governor’s Honors.

Whereas Quinones’ GHP interview involved one panel reviewing his resume of high school accomplishments and activities, Bala’s was a three-part process. He performed a monologue for one panel of judges, gave an improvisational performance for a second panel and was interviewed by a third. Bala said his experience performing in front of others helped him "not become overwhelmed in the moment" of being interviewed.

"I could just remain calm and, as others would say, just do what I do," Bala said with a laugh.

Though Bala and Quinones still have their senior year of high school to determine where they will attend college, they may again follow a similar path. The University of Chicago is one of Quinones’ top choices to attend business school, while Northwestern University in nearby Evanston, Ill., is on Bala’s possible list to pursue theater.

"To be one of 16 people in the state accepted for Executive Management is something that will stand out to all the schools that I will be applying to, because it shows I can go through an intensive program like that," Quinones said.

Funds for each GHP student’s tuition, room, board and instructional supplies are appropriated each year by the General Assembly as part of the state’s education budget. For four weeks, the students will spend the morning in their major area of nomination and the afternoon in one of the other areas of study. The evenings are filled with seminars, activities, concerts and performances.