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Governor's School blues



I was squinting to read in the dark when a girl I liked plopped down alongside me on the blanket I'd borrowed. My heart took a half step sideways; I hoped it was too dark to see me blush.

"I don't think college is going to be like this," she said. The receding daylight traced Meredith College's austere pines.

"Right," I replied, my heart burrowing until it finally found my stomach. "I think there's more Frisbee."

We laughed, paused and, still weeks from our last day at Governor's School, started bawling.

Every summer in North Carolina, 800 rising seniors voluntarily attend the state-funded Governor's School, a six-week residential program for "highly gifted" students. After an application-and-selection process, the kids ship off to Salem or Meredith College and—again, voluntarily—spend the bulk of the summer at school.

At Governor's School, I read Richard Brautigan, Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut for the first time. I joined a kung fu film club, and my philosophy class watched Do the Right Thing. My math curriculum included three weeks dedicated to the infinite possibilities of three-dimensional knots. Friends in the symphony learned 12 songs in four days and started a Weezer cover band; I sang on a stage in a concert for the first (and still only) time in my life. I encouraged some visual artists to stop making guerilla art and instead create gorilla art. Everyone in my dorm awoke to cartoons of primates taped to the doors.

Governor's School was established in 1963 to hone minds for, apparently, the Cold War. Once it became apparent that the world's fate didn't actually hinge on chess tournaments, the school quickly skewed liberal. Indeed, classes on epistemology and morality are two of three "areas" of study offered. Classes aren't graded, and counselors are about 20 year old. I understand why a GOP-helmed legislature would want to trim this ostensible budgetary fat. After a vote last month, Governor's School indeed lost its state funding. When I decided to commit these memories to print, the school needed to raise $100,000 by Aug. 1 to stay open. Fortunately, they have raised the money; unfortunately, they had to raise the money.

On paper, Governor's School looks like overachievers padding already-stout college applications while pretending to understand the Allegory of the Cave. I couldn't easily explain to a budget committee that my math curriculum—which included "Infinity Studies" and "Number Theory"—was worth $2,100, the estimated cost per student. But I can offer the night where 400 kids watched a double feature of the documentaries Remember My Lai and Obedience. Better still, I can offer myself—once a nervous, unconfident kid in the teenage world of cigarettes and cruising. My mom would tell you it took me out of my shell. She'd be right.

Teachers sometimes say they feel worse for the more accelerated students who stagnate in curriculum that's three years behind their abilities than for those kids who need help. One part of this sentiment is wrong—that students falling behind are the only kids in need of help. Without Governor's School, I'd be as worthless to the world as someone who can't divide.

My time at Governor's School was six weeks spent less than two miles from N.C. State, where I would later invest five years earning a civil engineering degree. One was a wholly substantial experience that I'd describe as "life-altering" without hesitation. The other prepared me for a licensure exam. Only one brought me to tears.

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