I like what I see

Published 11:16 am Friday, May 8, 2009

After too long an absence, I finally returned to sacred ground at the University of Georgia.

For all my babbling about my love for UGA, I have not felt welcomed there for several years.

President Michael Adams seems to view me as just short of radioactive, and a journalism professor acted like a petulant 2-year-old in front of my wife because I had written something he didn’t like. I decided at that point that I could live without the university, since it was quite apparent they could live without me.

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Therefore, it was with trepidation that I appeared on campus at the Grady College of Journalism at UGA at the invitation of Dean Cully Clark and his staff to view my new portrait being hung there. The event no doubt disappointed many of my detractors who had assumed I was the one being hung, not my likeness. Sorry about that.

It was a spectacular day in Athens, and I told someone that when I kick the bucket if I didn’t qualify for heaven—which seems likely despite the best efforts of Dr. Gil Watson, the World’s Greatest Preacher—I would take Athens in the springtime as my second choice.

The unveiling was made even more special by being able to spend time with a very impressive group of students. Dean Clark says today’s college students are bright as a new penny (thanks in large part to Zell Miller and the HOPE scholarships that have kept many of our best students in state). They are focused on their future, but they care also about the world in which they live and a lot of things my generation didn’t give much thought to: The environment, poverty and whether we will live in peace or blow ourselves to bits.

After my conversation with these young people, I decided I had been away too long and that the Grady College deserves more of my time and tithes. Shame on me for letting a few people spoil my love affair with my alma mater. I will be back.

I followed my visit to Athens with a trip to Gainesville to speak at a luncheon celebrating the third year of the Hall County Honors Mentorship Program. This program pairs honor students in the county’s six high schools with local professionals—doctors, ministers, artists, writers, attorneys, business people—six hours a week for 12 to 14 weeks. Any school system in Georgia that does not have such a program like the one in Hall County ought to get busy putting one together. And that do-nothing bunch in the Legislature ought to be encouraging these kinds of efforts instead of running around trying to furlough teachers and micro-manage everything they do.

Like many counties in Georgia, Hall County and its school system are going through tough economic times, but that has not stopped educators and a forward-thinking business community from investing in the best and brightest students in the county and giving them real-world experience. Before I spoke, Chase Staub, a senior at North Hall High School, and Nidia Bland, a junior at Flowery Branch High School, talked about their own experiences in the program without a single “uh” or “you know” or “like.” By the time they got through wowing the crowd, I could have read the Clermont phone book and nobody would have cared.

Sadly, the druggies and the dropouts and the “pitiful” public schools will continue to get most of the public’s attention, but trust me—there are a lot of good kids all over this state like the ones I saw in Athens and Gainesville, and a lot of hard-working school teachers busting their tails every day to give them the best education possible. In addition, our colleges, universities and technical schools—which are among the best in the nation—are turning out some outstanding young men and women well prepared to take over from us and run the show, probably better than we did. Wring your hands if you wish, but I have glimpsed Georgia’s future and I like what I see.