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Where were you 20 years ago this week? Typically, my memory is not crisp enough to recall exact dates, but this week I could answer this question. Twenty years ago, I was a 17-year-old, living in a dorm room at St. Andrew’s College in Laurinburg, North Carolina. I was experiencing my first real taste of independent living as a student at North Carolina’s Governor’s School East. My otherwise lagging memory is sharp on this detail because that summer changed me.

While Governor’s School East has moved to a different and more urban campus-Meredith College-sitting in this year’s orientation meeting transported me back to the summer of 1997. And a staff member’s advice to this year’s participants to “forget the cool” and focus on learning from one another reminded me of the lesson of the summer of 1997: it was ok to be intellectually curious. It was ok to ask questions and to learn from each other.

The theme of Governor’s School that summer was, “To ask a beautiful question is to receive an even more beautiful answer.” The instructors did not give us answers. They taught us to ask hard questions and when we found those answers, to ask even more. 

The Governor’s School curriculum has been criticized, and funding was threatened in this year’s budget. The Senate proposal eliminated funding for Governor’s School. About two-thirds of the School is state funded. The remaining costs are funded through tuition and contributions. Alumni from across the country voiced concern about the possibility of funding elimination. The House proposal and the compromise budget funded Governor’s School. 

But however one feels about the curriculum or cost, a simple fact remains: Governor’s School offers a place of belonging for its students. Surrounded by others with deep interests in writing, math, politics, science and art, I understood that a genuine love of learning was something to embrace and that not having all the answers did not mean we should stop asking questions– of our instructors and our peers, but also of ourselves.  

Governor’s School East students say goodbye to friends and family after orientation.

For the 670 students selected from the nearly 1,800 nominated applicants for the 2017 Governor’s School, the summer is ripe with possibility. We will follow along with the 335 students at Governor’s School East and 335 students at Governor’s School West at Salem College in Winston-Salem. Find the first of many student perspectives here.

Laura Lee

Laura Lee is the former content director and managing editor for EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

Born and raised in Union County, North Carolina, Laura attended Benton Heights Elementary School, Unionville Elementary School, Charlotte Latin Middle School, and Piedmont High School. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies. After graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked as an educator with a civic education organization and then as a program administrator for two Fulbright grant programs.

She received her J.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law in 2007. In law school, she served as president of the Student Bar Association and was a Davis Society inductee. She also holds a certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Laura briefly strayed from her Tar Heel allegiance in 2011 to obtain a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland where she was an Eleanor Merrill Fellow. She then worked at NPR producing content for the Washington desk, All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation

From 2013 to 2017, Laura oversaw daily production of North Carolina Public Radio WUNC’s The State of Things, first as assistant news director for talk programming and then as managing editor.