[Note: I wrote this a week ago. I just now got internet access.]

Today I bought an expensive bottle of Champagne and at the end of the day gathered my friends Marcie, Daniel, and Mike around me in the lobby of Brown Hall to make a toast to commemorate my first day at Governor’s Honors, forty years ago today.

I asked them to salute with me the program that for nearly fifty years has changed so many lives, and to honor all those who have come before us who have sustained it, as well as those who will come after us, come what may.

On the way down to Valdosta, Mike and I stopped by Wesleyan College in Macon, where the seventh GHP occurred. I asked his indulgence as we parked and walked all around the campus. I took photos everywhere–the main building with its arcade, the fountain, the long walk–my dorm down by the lake–the faculty dorm–the dining hall–the infirmary–the auditorium–the art building.

All those ghosts of memories, so many lost to my fading brain, but so many that still remain–and above all, the conviction that what happened there on that campus during those eight weeks altered who I am forever, and for the better.

I remember people: Forrest, Jason, Melissa–what an impact they had on me, letting me see that I was not a freak, or that if I was, there were other, wonderful, exciting freaks out there with me. The hours we spent walking around our summer city, or lying on the grass and talking talking talking laughing and talking.

The boy on my hall who was the fantastic flutist, better than I had ever dreamed of being and certainly better than anyone I had ever heard before. The girl in painting class who was so good at everything we did. The boy who played the organ in the auditorium during breakfast before classes started–and we would sneak in to listen to him practice.

The music students that composed incidental music for the three theatre productions, including a rock musical version of Antigone for which I painted the signs of the Zodiac on the stage floor. My fellow theatre minors, working on improvised scenes that veered between surreal and maudlin and witty. Playing last chair flute in the band as we hurtled through the Overture to Candide.

Donovan’s “Atlantis” on the jukebox in the snack bar and the resonance it suddenly had for us. The awful food in the dining hall. My science major roommate who for some reason sneered at the size of my family–how would we pay for college for so many children–but then had the good manners to apologize when we received our test scores on the Ohio Psych and I outclassed him by seven percentile points.

The hippie-dippie creativity assignments from Diane Mize, our painting teacher, mimeographed epistles of instructions which I dutifully tried to do, although without any real grasp of the tools she was handing me. The day she looked at my sketch book and forbade me to “design” anything else for the rest of the summer. The battle over the nude, which she was smart enough to realize that the way to win was to give me back that dreadful painting and make me realize how bad it was.

The late night walk Forrest and I took with Mize, talking about art and life and the universe–God knows what nonsense he and I were spouting or what wisdom she tried to impart to us–and realizing that we were out past curfew. Ms. Mize had to escort us to the dorm and try to explain our absence to the dragon lady dorm mother.

The French major who played flute next to me and who I showed the musical score collection in the library. She and I were playing through the 4th Brandenburg together when I seized the opportunity at a page turn to kiss her, my first.

The concert at which the string players were playing the 3rd Brandenburg and I was gobsmacked to realize that they were leaving out the third violin part–because I was following along with the score in the audience. (Years later, at a GHP planning weekend, I told that story at lunch with fellow teachers. Buddy Huthmaker said, “That was me. I was the string teacher.” Then he told a story from that same year about the weird kid who was such a gifted physical comic in the last night skits, and I got to say right back at him, “That was me.”)

Running up the aisle of the auditorium that last night, pumped at the huge audience response to my theatre minor team’s collection of gags and puns, searching for Diane Mize, and feeling a little hurt when she said, “Have you considered pursuing theatre?” (Six years later, in the bookstore at UGA, one week before I graduated with a BFA in theatre, I was able to tell Diane Mize, whom I had not seen in five years, that I had taken her advice.)

Not being able to get into the car the next morning to go home, but running here and there to make one last goodbye, to people, to places, to that world we had created and which now was vanishing before my eyes. And being unable to uncurl from a racked, sobbing knot in the back seat of the car all the way home, unable to bear that pain.

Awakening, later, truly awakening, and realizing that I was now seeing the world with different eyes. The world was different because I was different, and that all of who I was or ever would be was because of the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program. It is more than I can comprehend, and certainly more than I deserve.

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