Charles E. Richardson

Today's high-achieving youth

It struck me the other day, Tuesday to be exact, that I’ve wasted a lot of ink over the past couple of columns talking about young people who have probably never picked up a newspaper or gone to a news site and wouldn’t know a current event if it fell out of the sky and landed on them. They would know, of course, the latest exploits of Kanye and Taylor.

I was sitting at a luncheon honoring the 2015 class of the Peyton Anderson Scholarship Awards when this revelation hit me. In the interest of full disclosure, I sit, along with Chris Grant, Theresa Robinson, Mark Stevens and Jo Wilbanks, on the selection committee. Twenty-six members of the class of 2015, a group that started with more than 70 applicants, were honored. Being a Peyton Anderson Scholar is more than just getting your college education paid for (Peyton Anderson is the former owner of The Macon Telegraph and the Macon News), scholars receive counseling, guidance and life lessons. Karen Lambert, Charla Ivey and Chenza Geiser are, in the good sense, mother hens, throughout their college careers. These young people have been doing something right, many times under very adverse circumstances. Still, they have excelled. And they are, by far, not the only ones.

I opened up the graduation special section of this newspaper in Thursday’s edition, and more talented young people jumped out at me. It was as if they were saying, “look at me. I’m the one you should be writing about.” Northeast High School’s valedictorian, Auriel Wright, got in my face. She’s off to Harvard, but she had offers from other top schools including Penn, Stanford, Yale and Princeton. Veritas, baby.

Student are headed off far and wide to institutes of higher learning. All schools of higher education, including the network of technical colleges, are preparing students for jobs and careers that Pat Topping, our lead business recruiter, told the Downtown Rotary Club last week, don’t exist yet.

Christopher Blake, president of Middle Georgia State College (soon to be university), during his address at the Peyton Anderson luncheon, made a great analogy. He said education is the foundation of our lives, and while a strong foundation can’t prevent the roof from caving in or our houses from being destroyed, it can help us thoughtfully rebuild when those trials of life seek us out. And they will seek us out.

I’ve learned we have no idea what many high-achieving young people are going through. Some of their ailments are physical. Others are the stresses of a ill parent or sibling. Many young people are carrying a load they should not have to bear. I guess that’s part of what motivates them to achieve. The valedictorian from Northeast is being raised by her mother after her father passed away. She could have thrown in the towel, but she didn’t. In Friday’s Telegraph there are other stories of students who have achieved despite the odds against them.

And don’t let me leave you with the impression that the Peyton Anderson Foundation is the only one in town handing out scholarships. David and Elaine Lucas hand out annual scholarships in honor of their late son Al Lucas. Joan Walton and Roger Jackson handed out 15 scholarships Wednesday. The list of people and foundations is too long to mention here.

Let me take a moment of personal preference. Roger is going through a storm right now. He is holding his head high and has nothing to be ashamed of. However, he’s learned a lesson in human nature. It really doesn’t matter if you’ve saved other children in a particular family; that you’ve come out of your own pocket to make sure they’ve had Thanksgiving and Christmas just as he’s done for many of the families in his program. Roger believes every child can be saved, but that belief cost him and put the other children and families who depend on his Motivating Youth program in jeopardy.

I harken back to the 1982 Star Trek film “The Wrath of Khan.” Spock, in order to save the Enterprise and the lives aboard, enters a highly radioactive chamber to fix the ship’s warp drive so they can escape. Spock says, “The needs of the many outweigh...” Captain Kirk finishes his sentence “The needs of the few.” Spock says, “Or the one.”

Roger’s program will rise again. He now knows “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” or the one.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet @crichard1020.