By Thomas L. Preston
My question was brief: "What would you prefer or not like hearing during tonight's address?"
At Bellarmine, Morehead and Murray — host universities for the 2013 Governor's Scholars Program — attendees replied almost unanimously: "Say whatever. We're curious. We're interested in almost everything."
Predictably, the class of 2014, now being planned, will mirror its predecessor.
Known as "one program on three campuses," the GSP is an ultra-creative instructional paradigm serving more than 1,000 remarkably talented students about to begin their final high school year. It's a unique public-private partnership born in 1983. Resources from pragmatic, astute citizens representing business, industry, professions, state government and academics render the commonwealth healthy returns on a distinctive academic investment. Rigorous statewide competition determines winners for a novel, five-week immersion in advanced learning.
I was invited as convocation speaker at each campus. Accepting was easy, theme choice otherwise. Concluding preparations brought me early to the three institutions where I met as many honorees as possible. Age difference — my, how decades separated us —motivated my determination to better understand these enigmatic individuals.
Were they exceptional, yet regular guys and gals? Yes.
Disquiet faded rapidly. My audiences were on a mission to better understand yesteryear, seek constructive roles in the present and prepare against future daunting challenges. Scholars wanted details, not generalities.
I reflected on former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist's admonition to aspiring lawyers. He advised to always ask why. Doing so, he explained, leads to further inquiries — a factor productive to ultimate decision-making.
As mutual inquisitiveness increased, so did confirmation of student maturity, a revelation evoking hall-of-fame coach Paul Bryant's habitual idiom. Describing his new football recruits, the "Bear" would emphasize, "They have good mommas and daddies."
The GSP features thought-provoking perspectives because captivating instructors, diversified curricula and industrious counselors interlock. Furthermore, leadership techniques, including citizenship, are accentuated. The program is a powerful counter-argument against national reports panning elementary and secondary education.
Kentucky's program is free to eligible applicants succeeding competitively. Given participant numbers and disparate activities, the commonwealth again forges ahead. While some states reduce initiatives, Kentucky's grow. Gov. Steve Beshear's current budget proposal calls for another 100 applicants. Visionary legislators are active supporters.
Scholar's gain from expanding numbers of great professors. Here, knowledge arises in classrooms as well as within relevant, real-life settings. Aris Cedeno, executive director/academic dean, and his staff coordinate Kentucky's endeavors. More than 25,000 students have completed the program. And last year became the fourth consecutive one whereby all counties were represented.
Honorees also have interests beyond academics. They're athletes, volunteers, musicians, artists, wage earners, civically engaged, and yep, they love to party.
So, how will we keep 'em in old Kentucky? At business doorsteps today, and for tomorrow, keen minds — uncommon, ambitious talents — stand willing to augment employer growth and profit. Wise managers capitalize by:
■ Maintaining information about, and tracking this phenomenon.
■ Communicating persuasive message to targeted job candidates.
■ Adapting this treasure trove to local economic-development actions.
■ Enticing exceptional young aspirants to remain in the commonwealth.
■ Helping offset certain ageless viewpoints adversely affecting Kentucky's educational reputation.
Atypical new talent is increasing. Scientists, engineers, computer wizards, medical providers, sharp minds for sundry professions, community leaders, educators and entrepreneurs will make their mark somewhere. Why not in Kentucky?
We cannot lose our own magnificent assets. Why the GSP momentum must continue should be obvious.
Thomas L. Preston's Lexington public-relations firm has worked in military, corporate creation and management, government, counterterrorism, crisis control and communications.