You tend to see familiar surroundings through a new lens when you come back from a transformational experience.

That's especially true for Carleigh Flynn, Samantha Godfrey, J.T. Owens, and Sara Zuluaga, all of whom spent six weeks at the North Carolina Governor's School this summer. Now, each is entering his or her senior year, and – thanks to their experience – seeing things a little differently.

Godfrey“You notice things you didn't notice before,” said Godfrey, a senior at Southern Lee who studied English at the Governor's School western campus in Winston-Salem. “You get a little taste of college life, and then you have to come back to high school.”

Governor's School is a five-and-a-half week residential education opportunity for gifted rising seniors across North Carolina. The admission process is lengthy, selective and highly competitive. INSPIRED. profiled Lee County's four 2017 attendees in the spring to learn about their expectations; this week we talked to them about their experiences.

“It was amazing,” said Zuluaga, a senior at Lee County High School who studied social sciences at the Winston-Salem campus. “I still wake up every day, and I have a group chat with all my friends from Governor's School, and it feels like we're still there.”

J.T. OwensOwens, a senior at Southern Lee who went to the eastern campus in Raleigh, was there to study natural science. But he said the nature of the instruction – classes are divided into three areas, one being the main area of study, and the other two focusing on group discussions of topics like philosophy and current events – allowed for lots of cross-disciplinary conversation.

“I've never been a big art person, but I got to experience art through the electives,” he said. “I got to see an art show that was done by the other students, and that was really different, being a science guy.”

Carleigh FlynnSouthern Lee senior Carleigh Flynn was one of the artists at the western campus in Winston-Salem. She echoed Owens' comments about learning about her own discipline through other areas of study.

“We did a collaboration with the math students where they would give us a mathematical equation and we had to execute it through some kind of art,” she said. “And we had a collaboration with the dance students where we got into small groups and made drawings, and they used that to create a dance. I learned a lot about how to embrace other perspectives and how that's based on your life experiences.”

Zuluaga's social studies courses covered topics like the financial crisis of 2008, the structure and workings of various economic systems, health care, criminal justice, and more. In addition, she said the program offers students the opportunity to attend various seminars on a range of topics.

Sara Zuluaga“I probably went to three-fourths of the seminars, and they were amazing,” she said. “I went to seminars on institutional racism, on modern day feminism, and even on memes. All the people were fantastic. I forgot what it was like to be the only person in class who talks. There, everybody has an opinion.”

Owens, in fact, cited the “stress” of being in a classroom with some of the “smartest kids in the state.”

“It helped me realize I'm not always going to know everything at all times,” he said. “There's always more information to learn. (In high school) I've always been able to answer whatever questions came up in class. There, it was different. That was a first for me.”

Godfrey concurred.

“It's humbling,” she said. “I used to get aggravated with people who didn't know stuff in class. Now I know what it's like to be that person.”

Flynn said her art classes – one of her projects was centered around Dadaism, an art movement which emphasized undermining many of visual art's primary techniques – helped her look at herself and her motivations for making art.

“The question was 'what does the void mean to you?'” she said, explaining that her project ended up focusing on an old farmhouse on her grandfather's property which was lost to arson. “For me, that ended up being about something in your life that, once it's gone, it's never coming back. Most of the time with art, I'll just see something I like and try to make it my own. This helped me take a piece of myself and show it to the audience. I'm different now. That changed me.”

Each of the students said they'll bring their experiences with them into their senior year and beyond. For Zuluaga, that means she's confident in her ability to attend college in a place far from home without worrying about being able to meet like-minded peers. For Owens, it means he'll focus on enjoying the intelligence of others he's around and not competing with them. For Flynn, it means she understands better how to make a career out of art. And for Godfrey, it means she's expanded her ability to be outgoing around new people.

“I wasn't a very outgoing person before this,” she said. “You really have to interact with people at Governor's School. You're in charge of your own schedule and being where you need to be. I can't wait to go back to that.”

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