Tom Johnson, who grew up in Macon and went on to become the president of CNN, had quite the challenge Tuesday night at The Telegraph’s Golden Eagle Awards.
What advice could he give to a group of 155 Middle Georgia seniors who already have demonstrated hard work and excellence in fields ranging from the arts to mathematics to foreign languages?
So, at the 33rd annual awards presentation at the Grand Opera House in downtown Macon, Johnson — a one-time Telegraph reporter who later worked for the White House and became publisher of The Los Angeles Times — came up with 35 points for the group of seniors. He called them “lessons life has taught me.”
“I can still almost remember what it was like to be the age of these young people,” Johnson said. “These awards recognize their excellence. These young people have demonstrated high levels of promise already. They are determined to make it, and at their age, I was determined to make it. (The Golden Eagles) are a stamp of approval that no one can ever take away from them.”
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Among the points Johnson made to seniors: “Do your personal best at all you undertake — nobody can ask for more.” He also encouraged them to “be thankful for your blessings, especially your family, your friends and your health.”
George McCanless, publisher of The Telegraph, called the annual ceremony his “favorite day of the year.”
“We have 155 of the region’s top, senior, high school students here,” McCanless said. “It’s really excellent to be able to honor them (for) all their hard work and dedication.”
Johnson was the ideal choice as keynote speaker for the event, McCanless said, given all he has achieved since graduating from Macon’s Lanier High School in 1959.
“Tom is the perfect speaker to address these students,” he said. “He was born in Macon, just like them, went to a Macon high school, just like they are. He’s someone who has reached the highest level of the news industry. Whatever areas (the students) decide to pursue, they know they can do the same.”
Burgess Brown, a Central High School senior who earned honorable mention honors in the citizenship category, said he was proud just to be nominated.
“This is quite a group to be a part of,” said Brown, who plans to attend Georgia Tech in the fall. “I see all the great things everyone in this group has done. It’s just an honor to be a part of it. It means a lot that my teachers thought enough of me to nominate me. I enjoy representing Central in the best way that I can.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.