Five Effingham County high school students will check into Valdosta State University this Sunday, along with a few hundred others of the state’s most exemplary students.
Alyssa Livingston from Effingham County High School and South Effingham’s Katie Garner, Chantel LaFleur, Dallas McCorkendale and Marissa Powell will check in for four weeks of the Governor’s Honors Program. Livingston and LaFleur will be in the communicative arts program, while Garner will be in the social studies discipline, McCorkendale is going for jazz music and Powell’s major area of study will be agricultural science.
There were more than 2,800 applications for this year’s Governor’s Honors Program, which remains extremely competitive. McCorkendale is one of seven musicians chosen for the jazz section, and the only one from south Georgia.
“It’s a really big honor to be chosen for this,” said Garner. “I really didn’t think I was going to be chosen for this because there are so many kids.”
Nominated by their respective teachers, the GHP finalists also had to go through a series of interviews and other qualifications to prove their mettle. For Garner, LaFleur and Livingston, it meant essays.
“They gave me seven or eight excerpts from speeches or writings,” Livingston said, “and you had to take two of them and fit them into a lesson plan and say why you would teach team and what effect they would have on your students.”
Livingston, also a member of the ECHS Air Force JROTC, the drama club and the marching band, wants to be a translator or a teacher of English as a second language.
“I like staying busy,” she said.
LaFleur is in the health care pathway at SEHS and takes part in student council and the Model UN. LaFleur isn’t planning on majoring in literature in college — she wants to be a nurse anesthetist — but believes what she gains from GHP will help her later in life.
“If you are able to communicate well and speak to others well, you can be successful in any profession,” she said. “I can meet people from all over the state. I’m really excited to meet the variety of people.”
LaFleur wants to improve her writing skills and may take poetry classes as part of her major.
“There’s a wide variety of things I could probably do,” she said.
After a face-to-face interview, LaFleur had a 45-minute essay.
“It was a topic with four different sources and you had to analyze those sources and include evidence from them in our essay to prove our point,” she said. “We did so many of those in our literature classes.”
For the main essay to submit with her nomination, LaFleur had to analyze a poem and another work, comparing and contrasting them.
“I did not know I would make it this far,” she said. “You get chosen, and then you have to write an essay. I was a good writer, but I didn’t think I would be as good as everyone in the whole state. It’s a huge honor to be chosen from all the students who were nominated and then went through the whole process.”
Garner had to complete two separate essays on social studies and politics during her application process. The first essay was on why she should be chosen for GHP, and the topic for the second was why America needs to be focused on international politics and why Americans should be knowledgeable about international affairs.
“After that round, you go to an interview,” she said. “Then I had to do a debate. We were in a room with about 15 kids. They didn’t tell us the topic beforehand.”
The topic was whether to move the date of the presidential election, and Garner also had to assume the role of someone from a political party from a state. For the debate’s purpose, she was a Pennsylvania Republican.
“It wasn’t too far out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I’m on the Model UN team, so it comes second nature to debates.”
Garner wants to major in political science or pre-law in college, so social studies has long been one of her fortes.
“It’s been my favorite subject since elementary school,” she said. “It’s something I catch on to quickly.”
In McCorkendale’s case, he had to send in a recording of his performance of jazz standards and then play live. His live performance, which included a prepared piece in which he had to perform a solo and an improvisation over a chord progression, was in front of Valdosta State director of jazz studies David Springfield.
Following that, there was a separate interview with general music questions. McCorkendale, who plays guitar, knew of one other student trying out for a GHP spot.
“I felt pretty relaxed,” he said. “I felt my audition went very well.”
McCorkendale plays the bassoon in the SEHS wind ensemble, the marimba in marching band and recently returned to playing the saxophone. He’s been playing music since the sixth grade, and he got a guitar as a present.
“I started taking lessons and caught on to it quickly,” he said. “For the first couple of years, I was into classic rock and blues, and from blues I transitioned into jazz because the two are related.”
McCorkendale plans to major in music in college and is planning on attending the University of Georgia, even though the school doesn’t offer a jazz program. He wants to go to Oberlin or Miami after that for further studies. McCorkendale wants to obtain a doctorate in jazz studies, teaching jazz history, jazz theory or jazz performance.
“I want to go straight for a doctorate as soon as I can,” he said.
McCorkendale says he likes to be the least-skilled person in the room. That way, he surmises, he has the most to learn, and he’s taking that approach to his GHP pursuits.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said of his selection to GHP. “I’m excited to learn a lot. Everyone is at that same level. I think there is a lot to learn. For college, I think it’s a good stepping-stone.”
Powell took a unique approach to her interview. She decided she was going to be herself.
“I went into the interview nervous,” she admitted. “But I was just myself. I made them laugh, and I even sang to them. I was myself and I got it. I told my mom, ‘I didn’t get it if they didn’t want someone to be themselves.’ They asked what makes me different and I said, ‘because I m a morning person.’ So I sang a good morning song.”
Powell, an active member of FFA who has shown pigs and goats, also raises goats and, depending on the time of year, pigs. Her family also has chickens and ducks. Powell’s mother grew up on a farm, so working outside was instilled in her early.
“We love it,” she said.
While students spend mornings and early afternoons in their major area of study, but can pick a minor field. Powell admitted her minor probably won’t be intellectually taxing.
“My minor is going to be something completely different from ag,” Powell said.
She already has chosen a college and a course of study — she’s going to Mississippi State University for its poultry science program.
Getting chosen for GHP, Powell said, “is an awesome feeling.”
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I want to do something outside of the box.”
Two of Powell’s good friends are GHP alumni, and they’ve let her know that she will meet people from the around the state and will form friendships during their short but intense time together. Powell knows one of their GHP cohorts from her FFA endeavors.
“They said they still talk to people they meet GHP,” she said. “And one of them became a state FFA officer. So I know him.”
The dorms and meals for the students are free of charge. They can bring spending money and their travel to and from Valdosta is not covered by the state.
While in Valdosta — going to classes among VSU’s Spanish-style buildings and likely enduring a steamy south Georgia summer — the Effingham GHP contingent will be exposed to new people and perhaps some new ways of thinking, all while getting a taste of what college’s academic life is like.
“I’m excited,” Livingston said. “I don’t care that I’m going to be gone for four weeks. I’m really happy. I don’t have a class where I can study Arabic. I’m excited and I’ll get to be around people who have interests similar to mine.”