For almost three decades, the Governor's School for the Arts has nurtured the “creative spark” of young Tennesseans with a love for music, theatre, visual arts, dance and filmmaking.
As the program kicked off its 30th anniversary this week at MTSU, the man who founded the statewide summer programs for gifted high schoolers said his goal remains the same for each participant: "aim for the top."
"The whole idea was simply to find within our schools students who were really good, and who wanted to be better, and to give them the opportunity to meet with other students who felt the same way," U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville, said at a Tucker Theatre welcome ceremony for 305 new participants and their families, event staff and counselors, and other guests on Sunday.
"Not only would that help them be better, but whenever they went back home to their schools, others would think 'Where'd they go and what did they do? And if it's that important, maybe I should be thinking in the same way.'"
Alexander, himself a musician since age 4, was governor in 1984 when he encouraged Tennessee lawmakers to create summer residency programs for young people in the arts, engineering and math, and international studies — one for each of the state's three grand divisions.
Thirty years later, there now are a dozen different Governor's Schools across Tennessee to immerse dedicated 10th and 11th graders in their chosen fields for four weeks and give them college course credit to boot. The arts school at MTSU is the state’s oldest and largest with more than 9,000 alumni.
"All of this, over the last 30 years, has helped lift up our state and caused us to think more of ourselves. The Governor's Schools have grown, and they've become terrifically important," Alexander, also a former U.S. education secretary, said. "I have two former Governor's School students who work with me in my Senate office."
Alexander joked that excellence in the arts never precludes excellence in seemingly unrelated fields, adding that even former Federal Reserve Chairman Allen Greenspan was able to find a good job when Greenspan’s clarinet career at the Juilliard School didn't pan out quite as he’d hoped.
"Whether you become a professional or remain an amateur, your music will stay with you the rest of your life,” Alexander told the standing-room-only audience.
“You are helping us show that we can aim for the top in the arts and all the other activities we have at the Governor's Schools. You are part of our effort to find the excellence and to praise it."
2011 Governor’s School theatre alumnus Zach Ginn, who helped emcee the welcome event, is now majoring in human and organizational development at Vanderbilt. His captivating demeanor while handling a happy crowd of nearly 1,000 could certainly be learned in a boardroom, eventually, but his stage experience has obviously given him an advantage.
"Creativity's in many forms," Ginn said. "We talk about how in business you need creativity to come up with your product or service and then must be able to reach the customer with it. It's the whole left-brain connection that really makes sense in solving problems as well as coming up with new ideas."
Dr. Raphael Bundage, a vocal professor in MTSU's School of Music and the director of the Governor's School for the Arts, agreed.
"We have students who were in Governor's School everywhere now," Bundage said, checking off the names of respected business leaders as well as “people in U.S. government, singers at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, countless numbers of teachers …
“Not everyone who attends our Governor's School ends up in the arts. That mindset is there, though, and that creative capacity is there. Whatever field they end up in, that creative spark will be there and can be useful to them.”
The Governor's School for the Arts runs through June 26 at MTSU. Public finale events will be held on campus June 25 and 26. For more information, including applying for next year's session of the Governor's School for the Arts at MTSU, visit http://gsfta.com.