Senior Tiernan O’Neill sits with his friends at Palms Dining Hall on Valdosta State University’s campus in Valdosta, Ga. O’Neill spent four weeks at VSU while attending the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program. Pictured, from left, Henry W. Grady High School senior Chloe Prendergast, Valdosta High School senior Lorna Chitty, Brookwood High School senior Jenny Choi, Norcross High School senior Rebecca Topper, Savannah Country Day School senior Asher Kolman, NHS senior Sarah Jaston, Savannah Arts Academy senior Ginnie Diebolt, O’Neill and NHS senior Connor Murphy. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Topper.
By TIERNAN O’NEILL – Editor-in-Chief
Senior Tiernan O’Neill attended the Governor’s Honors Program, a four-week summer program in Valdosta, Ga., for rising upperclassmen.
I shouldn’t have any friends.
Let me explain, I’m a senior at Clarke Central and, except for a junior or two, my peer group last year was completely made up of seniors.
A year later, my friends are at college, most far away from Athens, thus, leaving me to suffer the stress of applying to college and senioritis alone.
That would’ve been the case, except that on March 13, my impending solitude was averted by an email from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.
“Congratulations on being selected to participate in the 2015 Governor’s Honors Program!
Your status as a GHP student is voluntary, and, as a result, is both a privilege and a responsibility. Each student will have several opportunities to develop additional skills and knowledge in an environment that is filled with scholars and artists.”
I was shaking.
It had taken two years for me to get this email. I had made it to the state interviews as a sophomore. I couldn’t believe that I was accepted to the hyper-selective state funded nerd camp.
Fast forward to June 28, when I first stepped onto Valdosta State University’s campus. I didn’t really know what to expect. From what I had heard from my friends who had gone, GHP was a “life changing” experience. I really didn’t believe the fanfare. I was expecting that the most I would get out of GHP was a month away from my parents and maybe a smart boyfriend.
The first few days were terrifying.
Walking into Palms Dining Hall was not unlike the cafeteria scene in Mean Girls. The theater majors clumped up in one corner, the strings majors in the other and visual arts kids at another. There were three other kids from my school there, but I wasn’t really close with them back home.
I just took my chances, sat a random table and tried to make friends.
I quickly formed friendships with two girls from my social studies major: Chloe, a fiery fellow journalist from Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, and Lorna, an outgoing curly-haired soccer player from Valdosta High School. Together we formed “GHPharm” over our disdain of the Advil ban and cringeworthy GHPuns. Over four weeks, GHPharm expanded to include other Soc Studs (social studies majors, Commies (communicative arts) and visual arts majors.
At GHP, we are allowed a safe space to step out of our comfort zone. Whether it’s by choosing an elective class in an alien subject–for me it was science–or by investing energy in a rigorous major course.
No core classes, no grade, no stress, pure intellectual freedom.
Nothing compared to the thrill of stepping into my “What Does it Mean to Hate in America?” class for the first time. Finally, I was allowed to choose my own classes, like Black Male Image in Cinema, where we analyzed the limited character arcs and omnipresent negative stereotypes available for black characters, and Modern American Puritanism, in which the teacher brought in modern Evangelicals to talk about their religion.
Looking back on my my GHP experience, I can say that it really did change my life. And as cliché as that sounds, it’s completely true.
While the academic experience was invaluable, thanks to GHP, I have a senior friend group. And because of Lorna, Chloe, Jenny, Ginnie, Connor, Asher, Sarah, Rebecca and so many others, I can now say, no matter how begrudgingly, that GHP changed my life.