Do you remember when you knew you weren't a kid anymore?
I don't mean losing your virginity or buying your first beer -- I mean the moment when you knew you were a person who would actually turn into a grown-up responsible for your own choices, someone who existed beyond the space of your family.
For me, that moment was in July 1990 at St. Andrew's Presbyterian College, where I attended Governor's School East. It was the summer before my senior year of high school -- the first summer I'd spent away from home, the first time I'd had a roommate, the first time I went somewhere and didn't know anyone. (Also, the first time I fell for an older guy, but that's another story.)
Thinking back, I'm not even sure how to explain it all. But I can remember very clearly sitting at night on the campus tennis courts (there wasn't a lot to do in Laurinburg, which was probably a good thing) talking with a friend who I'd just met a few weeks earlier but who seemed to have always been there. And there, sitting beside the service line, I had this out-of-body, existential sort of teen moment.
Somehow, without my parents around and without all the familiar trappings of my own room or locker or school friends, I suddenly realized that I existed separate from all those things. Like I was floating out into some parallel universe. And yet, all those people -- and the objects I'd left behind -- were still there, going on living without me.
And for a moment, I forgot who I was. Lost track of the me that had always been there, the one that belonged to those other people and places -- and I realized I was someone else. Instead of daughter, student, sister or friend, I was simply and independently Me.
It sounds a bit ridiculous when I write it down like that, but I've been thinking about that moment a lot lately.
You see, the North Carolina legislature (like governments across the country) is slashing through the budget to try to make the state's ends meet. And one way they've proposed to do that is to end all funding for Governor's School.
While I recognize the difficulties our legislators are facing, I know that cutting the funding allotted for this fantastic program will do much more harm than good. By eliminating the oldest statewide summer residential program for academically or intellectually gifted high school students in the nation, North Carolina would save $849,588 -- a drop in the $2.4 billion deficit. Meanwhile, 800 students each year from across the state will miss one of the great opportunities to explore life, learning and culture beyond the walls of their own schools and communities.
One of the things that made Governor's School so impressive is that it was, until very recently, free for students to attend. That meant that any student who was nominated and selected by his or her district -- not just those whose parents could afford it -- could attend. If state funding is reduced or removed and students have to pay to attend, the program will no longer be accessible to all. And that fact will change the very nature of the program.
Those six weeks in 1990 changed me in ways I cannot explain. It was without a doubt the absolute best thing I could have done that summer.
If you had a similar experience in high school or just value this sort of program, I encourage you to take a moment and let the North Carolina legislature know -- start with the House and Senate committees on education appropriation or just write to your own representatives. Our state can do better -- and our students deserve more.