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Looking Back: GSP Shaped Identity as a Kentuckian

Earlier this month, the Kentucky Historical Society talked with students/scholars at Murray State for the 2017 Governor’s Scholars Program. That experience took me back to a sunny day in late June 15 years ago when I piled five weeks’ worth of clothing, snacks, bedding, and CDs (it was the early 2000s after all) into my parents’ mini-van, and rode two hours south to Centre College for the 2002 Governor’s Scholars Program (GSP).

I had not spent much time exploring or understanding Kentucky, and certainly felt that my middle class, suburban, Northern Kentucky lifestyle was superior to the rest of the state’s neighborhoods, farms and hollows—in fact, I pronounced hollow with a long O at the end. I was incredulous in northern Jessamine County, as the suburban sprawl of Lexington receded, and downright terrified by the time we crossed the Kentucky River into Garrard County.

Five weeks later, as I rode in that same van north, I had a profoundly different feeling about the commonwealth and my place in it.

For more than 30 years, GSP has gathered Kentucky’s best and brightest rising seniors on college campuses for an immersive pre-college experience, introducing young folks from all corners of the commonwealth to each other. The program strives to address one of Kentucky’s most persistent problems: the brain drain. Communities across the state are losing citizens as they seek opportunities outside their region or the state itself—opportunities they feel are not available to them in their hometowns.

At GSP, scholars are required to exam their place in the world and how they can be productive, contributive members of society. They are encouraged, through scholarships and talks, to remain in or return to Kentucky as they pursue higher education and careers. Regardless of scholars’ choices after high school, the program serves to instill an appreciation for our state—its history, culture and people.

Those five weeks changed my life. I don’t say this to be hyperbolic. GSP helped shape my identity as a Kentuckian; the program helped me to see my place in the state and introduced me to a cohort of young people like me—curious, engaged, and smart, fiercely independent but proud of our little slices of the Bluegrass. It showed me that Kentucky had much more to offer than I could ever imagine from my home in Kenton County. I left Centre College still unsure if I’d stay in Kentucky long-term, but determined that I would never truly leave Kentucky behind.

Now, a decade and a half, three Kentucky supported degrees, and a career in the humanities as a state employee later, I had the absolute thrill to return to GSP as a convocation leader. Coming full circle with the program—from 2002 scholar to 2005 and 2006 resident assistant to 2017 convocation leader—has been the highlight of my summer.

When the Kentucky Historical Society began our Kentucky @ 225 Listening Tour programming, I knew we needed to talk with young folks about their Kentucky.

What do the next generation of business, civic, arts, heritage, and humanities leaders think about the commonwealth?

What keeps them from seeing a future here and what can current leaders do to help them stay?

What ideas do these bright young people have about how to address our challenges going forward and what do they envision as the future of their county, region, or state?

We took those questions to the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts and all three GSP campuses. Next month, I’ll let you know what the next generation has to say.


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