Finding My Passions, Finding Myself | Governor’s School East 2019

by Hawbridge senior Kieran Murphy (pictured above in first row, second from left)

Editor’s Note: North Carolina’s Governor’s School is a unique program designed specifically for the special needs of gifted and talented students. Students are selected to attend through a competitive process after being nominated by their public school unit or non-public school. The first nominated Hawbridge student selected to attend was Marilla Morrison in 2018. You may read her story here. In 2019, both of Hawbridge’s nominees were selected to attend. One went to Governor’s School West and the other to Governor’s School East.

When I first got the news, I wasn’t sure how I felt. I was ecstatic on the one hand; after filling out the application, writing essays, going for the audition with nearly 100 other NC students and several delays of the announcement, I had done it and gotten into Governor’s School East for theatre. But on the other hand, this was strange: going to a school for five and a half weeks confined to a small campus seemed stressful, and I was worried I would miss out on other opportunities and personal projects. Luckily, I couldn’t have been more wrong about the latter. After going through the full session and graduating in late July with my 300+ peers, I can without a doubt say that Governor’s School– or “Gov School” as we call it– was one of the greatest, most enriching experiences I’ve had in recent years.

However, while it was enriching, Gov School is much more than a school, at least in the way that it is typically defined. For one, there are no grades; all work, assignments and extracurricular activities are completely based on personal passions and interests. In the morning, and again in the afternoon, we would attend our Area I classes– for me, theatre– and in-between we would alternate between Area II– a class centered around philosophy and epistemology– and Area III, a self-values class where we were frequently asked to evaluate who we were and what we believed in. Both Area II and III combined students from all different Area Is, as in both cases, I was the only theatre student in them. Extracurriculars were wide and varied, ranging from getting to recite my work at the weekly poetry reading to watching obscure foreign films to watching and participating in improv games to showing up to each other’s performances and cornerstone events where we showed off our work throughout the summer. As Laura Sam, the site’s coordinator (and our self-decided leader), said every day, it was always “the happiest day at Governor’s School East.”

In theatre, we were tasked with devising a piece from scratch, down to the premise, the characters, the script, the staging, the costumes and the music, among other things. We used Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle as a base for this, choosing to start with our “why” and find universal truths that could be applied to our show, all based around the larger interdisciplinary focus of “truth” over the summer. From there, it was an incredibly fun– and sometimes intense– scramble to get the thing made, all pieced together from various awesome ideas that my fantastic fellow theatre students and I– 16 of us in total– had. Through our hard work and dedication, we ended with a piece that, once performed, received an overwhelmingly positive reaction that made all of it worthwhile. When we weren’t working on our piece, we were learning all sorts of cool acting methods and techniques, from devising nonsense poem performances to making improv games to creating puppets from paper and walking them around to exploring the emotions of the rasaboxes. However, the academic aspect of Gov School was only part of what made my experience so great.

Gov School would not be the same without the wonderful and unique people that make up its student body. The people that I met during my time there have become some of my best and most trusted friends, and the crazy thing about it all is that it happened almost instantly. I’m not typically one to be super open about myself to new people or to go out of my way to make new close friends, but with the creative environment presented and the shared passions all in one place, it made it so easy to connect with and get along with people in meaningful ways. And it wasn’t just people who shared my Area I– I’ve made strong friendships from all sorts of other Area Is, ranging from poetry to math to choral music to French, among many others. What it manifested as in most people, it seemed, was a sense of freedom and openness that they had not gotten to experience in regular high schools, a freedom to express deep thoughts and discuss anything from deep issues to casual conversation, along with everything in between. If anything, I felt invigorated to come back to Hawbridge, because Gov School, as it turns out, taught me more about myself than anything, and that’s huge. 

One day in Area III, we were tasked with “fixing” the North Carolina education system and proposing alternative methods for its execution. As it turns out, many were dissatisfied with their school, their educational opportunities and even their relationships with others as well as how they viewed them. But the more I thought about it and contributed to the discussion, the more I realized that I have a lot of privilege in this department and that I have both a strong education and a good set of friends who, in turn, I came to appreciate more. Amidst the great experience of Gov School, I really found that, in a lot of ways, it was quite similar to Hawbridge, and a lot of the new freedoms that my fellow students enjoyed were ones I realized I’d already been experiencing for years and maybe wasn’t thankful enough for.

Throughout my entire time attending Gov School, I came to realize that learning about and flourishing in our Area I and meeting new people was really only part of the experience. What it’s really about is learning about yourself– how you think, feel and act, as well as what you believe in– and taking people from all sorts of different backgrounds and providing them with new outstanding opportunities. I now think it’s safe to say that I have a better sense of what makes me me and what where I come from has given me, as well as what I can give back. I look forward to continuing that and giving back to my friends, school and community, as well as respecting and appreciating what they have given me.