Fifty summers ago, North Carolina gave me a gift that changed my life forever: Governor’s School, instituted just four years earlier by the North Carolina legislature as a first of its kind, a state-funded in-residence accelerated program in the arts, literature and philosophy. My high school, Jordan-Matthews in Siler City, nestled in Chatham County’s rural beauty at the geographical center of the Tar Heel State, was representative of many such small-town North Carolina schools, with dedicated teachers but limited resources.
Governor’s School was like nothing I had ever known: six weeks at Salem College among 400 other young North Carolinians, some from large urban schools, but most from schools and families like my own, people of modest means like my pastor father and learning-loving mother, who could never have afforded me such an opportunity on their own. We were a patchwork of backgrounds, colors, faiths and non-faiths, from across the full political spectr um, eager and opinionated and nudged toward broader perspectives by the values, opinions and world-views of others, who stoked my thirst for deeper thinking and broader vistas. My truest urges toward “plumbing the darkness of the great dark room” of open-minded, mature thought were given their finest encouragement by my teachers and peers at Governor’s School.
Now comes word that our current North Carolina legislature is considering de-funding Governor’s School. What a grievous misstep that would be.
North Carolina must not slink meekly toward some pale mediocrity, content to mimic society’s current rush to the bottom of honest intellectual, cultural and spiritual pursuits. There is an old saying from the Tar Heel State’s venerable farming tradition: “Don’t eat the seed corn.” It’s a warning against recklessly consuming all of last year’s harvest without setting aside seeds for next spring’s planting. Destroying Governor’s School would have precisely that effect, a misplaced neglect of North Carolina’s promising young minds upon whose bright creativity our best future hinges. Please join me in urging your respective legislators to abandon this unworthy venture.
With fervent hope our beloved Tar Heel State might continue to offer fertile soil for the life of the mind, “where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,” I urge our elected leaders to do the right thing.
Dr. Mitchell Simpson is pastor at University Baptist Church, Chapel Hill, and a member of the Governor’s School Class of 1967. Email: mitchellsimpson@