From where I’m sitting, the future of Effingham County is in good hands.
And last week that seat was between two experienced businessmen facing nine of South Effingham High Schools most accomplished students.
The three of us were acting as a mock panel of judges to nine students nominated for the esteemed Governor’s Honors Program. In GHP, Georgia’s elite students spend a month at Valdosta State University doing college-level coursework in a variety of fields.
This group had three musicians, two students of social studies, two for literature, one in executive management, and one very impressive theatre student — all of whom were phenomenal well beyond their subject areas.
For many, this was their first real interview experience, and boy, were they nervous. Our job was to prod them for 20 minutes about their subject area, personal aspirations and their lives as students, then coach them on what they could do better.
Talking to these kids was a humbling experience. Over and over I heard myself say, “You’re already impressive; your file tells me that. Now you just have to be confident in yourself and your abilities.”
Some were in the top 10 of their class, some in the top 20, and while one or two may not have been ranked as high in their classes overall, their passion and talent for their subject was extraordinary.
The theatre student was a laudable talent. His monologue conveyed the inner feelings and thoughts of a teenager with special needs. I had to control myself to keep from crying. I felt like I was watching him coming into his own, tapping into his destiny.
But I think it’s worth noting that I left that day with a sense of how frustrating it must be to be one of the “smart kids” in high school. Because just being intelligent is almost superfluous when it comes to GHP and getting into college. They all make excellent grades; they’re all talented and charming; they’re all in the same academic clubs; they’re all in band or play a sport, doing something outside of school to improve themselves.
And there are only so many clubs to join or sports to play.
In college and in the job market, I find there are more ways to stand out, to differentiate myself from my peers or fellow candidates.
But these kids don’t get to see that side of the rainbow yet. In order to get in to that perfect school with loads of scholarship money, they have to be able to do everything that the person sitting next to them in their AP classes is doing, but more and a little better to show that they are worthy.
One student got emotionally overwhelmed during our critique of the interview. But I can see why. That was probably the first that student has ever heard something they did wasn’t perfect. I’ve seen it before in adults in law school breaking down over less but for the same reason.
The students will be doing their real interviews during the next few weekends at different schools across the state. They will be competing to differentiate themselves in the same way as they do daily, but in an elite tier and magnitude because every student who interviews there will likely have a file that’s just as impressive. And there are only a few spots available for GHP.
What will make the SEHS students stand out, thanks to the hard work of their teachers, advisors and counselors, is that they’ve had time to prepare and practice. The counselors gave the students mock interviews before the mock panel that I served on even saw their files.
As an education reporter, I have seen the attention the school system gives to finding improvement and meeting certain thresholds that 10 years ago they didn’t think possible. These goals, though legislated to the system, have made Effingham strive to be better. And Effingham has met the challenge in most ways.
But I find comfort in seeing the schools being this attentive to improving the most superb of our students, inspiring them to challenge themselves and to amplify their talents. It inculcates them to be lifelong learners and shows them their potential as leaders.
I have no doubts that each of the nine students I met with last week will continue to be great. They could be the next generation of leaders in this county, and if they choose to, as I said before, Effingham is in good hands.