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Nichols: Two military schools offer inspiration

POSTED: July 5, 2010 1:00 a.m.

My home is across an inlet of Lake Lanier from Riverside Military Academy. I like to hear the sound of their bugler at times during the day. I am about three blocks from the water and cannot see their buildings, but bugle sound is a pleasant reminder that some 300 young men are receiving an outstanding military education.

When I have visitors from out of state, I like to take them on a short drive to see the 206-acre campus.

Shortly after I retired to Gainesville in 2000, I was given a tour of the facility. Every building except one had been torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. I believe that last building was replaced shortly after my tour.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, I was selected to be one of two delegates from that school to participate in a student conference on world problems at West Point.

For three days, I enjoyed the excitement of considering complex ideas from cadets from our military schools and civilians from Ivy League public and private schools. The historic buildings encouraged all delegates to dig deep for recommendations to send to our state department. The West Point buildings and setting on the Hudson made a lasting impression on me.

On May 28, I drove with my sister and her husband to Milledgeville, where her grandson was one of 61 cadets about to graduate from the Georgia Military College Preparatory School.

Georgia Military College has some similarities with Riverside. The buildings have the fort-like roof lines and stone facing. The cadets wear crisp uniforms to class and on parade. The number of seniors graduating was between 60 and 70 and the entire student body runs around 300 in both schools.

But half the Georgia Military seniors were female. GMC was founded in 1879 and its graduating class in 1890 first included women. I believe there have been women in the cadet corps ever since that first female cadet, whereas Riverside is all male.

Both Riverside and GMC have grades six to 12 and are excellent preparatory schools with records of good acceptance for their graduates to colleges and universities all over the United States. GMC also has a two-year junior college at Milledgeville, and my nephew has decided to attend that school. Most GMC students are day students; most cadets at Riverside live in the dorms.

A major difference is that Riverside is a private school that is heavily endowed.

GMC is a public school, supervised at first by the University of Georgia, but independent of that supervision after laws passed in Atlanta in 1920 and 1922.

The main address at the GMC graduation was given by Sen. Johnny Isakson. He talked about the six secrets to success: learning, respect for others, ethics, love, faith and dreams.

Isakson discussed meeting his 1962 high school valedictorian shortly after their graduation. That young man was Kenny Ascher, who was going to Columbia University on a math scholarship. He told Isakson that he really wanted to play the piano before millions of people, and not be just a mathematician.

At Columbia, Ascher was assigned a roommate named Paul Simon, who later became world famous with his singing partner, Art Garfunkel.

Simon introduced Ascher to the music world and he became famous as a pianist and composer and recorded with John Lennon, Barbra Streisand and many others. Millions have heard his piano playing as he dreamed.

Success is when opportunity meets preparation and drive to succeed, the senator concluded.
His talk was warmly received by the graduates, relatives and all audience members including staff from GMC.

When GMC valedictorian John Austin Vance, came to the podium, he began his remarks with the comment that he had been advised to keep it brief and not give a long list of relatives and teachers to thank. However he had a short list to thank. He put God at the top of his list and thanked God for giving us reason to have faith in his love for each one of us.

As a teacher for 38 years, I have attended countless graduations. I have never heard a more powerful graduation address than Sen. Isakson's. And I have never heard another valedictory address that began with a thankful tribute to God.

Vance will make a contribution to our world, I am certain. He may not become world famous like Ascher, but I am certain he will find his dream as Isakson advised.

I was valedictorian of my class in 1946. My dream was to become a teacher who encouraged further learning. And I did.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly on Mondays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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