Lifelong Enlightenment by Peyton Paulson

Peyton Paulson’s narrative is one that is fantastic at working in different ways. It could very easily have been placed in “Working on Identity” because of the focus on self-enlightenment and self-motivation. It’s a personal story. However, we chose to put this narrative in “Working for Community” because the experiences Paulson describe go beyond just improving her identity. How do you see the narrator, or the narrative, working for community? How would this narrative change if she were working with a bigger community?


I knew I was going to cry – I could feel the pressure building in my head. I sensed my throat tightening. My eyes welled up and I felt my lips twitch. The heat upon my forehead grew more intense and nervous energy stirred in my stomach. As I said goodbye to my parents and my cherished “summer vacation” to be dropped off at the Kentucky Governor’s Scholar Program (GSP), I had no expectations of delight for the next five weeks of my life. I had dreaded going to Morehead State University, where the program was being held. I had never heard of the small, sleepy, college town so far from my home. I began to question why I even applied for the GSP. It was a great honor to be accepted, but was I really ready to leave my family and friends behind? Little did I know, I would meet lifelong friends and experience something that would completely change my life forever. I can admit my first impression of the Governor’s Scholar Program was completely wrong. GSP infinitely changed the way I viewed my education and the world around me.

After saying a desolate goodbye to my parents, I remember looking around the large group as we walked from the gymnasium induction ceremony to the dormitory. I realized I was not the only teary-eyed scholar. An uncomfortable silence filled the air interspersed with small talk. By the time we got to the dorms and finished our RA meeting, it was nighttime. As I settled into my small, strange living space, I met my three roommates. I did not know anyone else accepted into the program so I figured it was a good time to make some friends. Although it was a little awkward at first, Janet, Mary Beth, and Sarah seemed so nice! We chit-chatted for about an hour then, sadly, my roommates wanted to go to bed. To my surprise, I was ready to keep talking for the rest of the night. Feeling lonely, I crawled in my bed too. Unable to fall asleep, I said some prayers. Hopefully things would get better.

The next morning, I remember waking up very early, nervous as if it were a first day of school. Classes were going to start and I needed to get coffee in my system! Somehow, trusting my map, I made my way to the dining hall. The first few days of Governor’s Scholar Program classes were very overwhelming, especially navigating my way to each class. Our schedules were designed to be like a typical college freshmen’s schedule – we had to walk all over campus!  It was very intimidating. Morehead’s campus seemed so big, and I felt like I would never be able to remember where each class was. I felt very lost and out of place.  

By the end of the week, I was still a little insecure; however, I was starting to feel more accustomed to campus and Governor Scholar life. I was beginning to feel less lonely. Slowly but surely, my roommates and I were starting to talk more. Each night we stayed up later and later chatting about life, movies, boys, “GSP Baes,” food, and celebrities. We laughed so hard, we cried. Other times, we cried so hard, we laughed. I had never had such an experience with friends and I loved it! True friendships were formed and we genuinely supported each other.       

Despite lingering anxieties, everything became a pleasant routine by the second week. I loved my new positive, encouraging environment! I began to enjoy the freedoms of GSP “college life.” I was free from the chains of a public high school system. No longer did I have to sit in cramped classrooms and walk around narrow hallways. In between classes, I enjoyed the fresh air and experienced the natural world around me. The warm sunshine brightened my days, as the dreaded long distances seemed to fade away. When walking to class on my “luminous path,” positivity became contagious. It seemed to radiate from person to person. No one was afraid to smile, say hi, or start up a friendly conversation.  

Not only did the positive community-oriented environment of GSP warm my heart, it began to motivate my mind. We were encouraged to be active and participate, not anticipate. I learned to step out of my comfort zone and truly enjoy each moment, experiencing it to the fullest. Removed from the dull robotic motions of high school, my desire to learn was ignited. Learning became fun again. Everyone at GSP seemed to have the same desire to contribute. The effects were amazingly powerful. While my desire fueled the optimism in my learning environment, the classroom structure fueled efficiency in my learning. In the classroom, everyone was expected to listen attentively to others’ opinions and ideas. Not everyone had to agree, but we were taught to truly respect one another and embrace our differences. A culture shock to some, I enjoyed the sense of openness in the classroom. I loved the efficient organization it brought to the classroom. Through discussion, never afraid to speak our mind, we worked collectively in solving problems. Our desire to learn, knowing our thoughts and opinions were heard and valued, encouraged us to devote full attention to the task at hand and immerse ourselves wholeheartedly.   

After five weeks of hard work and dedication, the GSP closing day ceremony arrived.  We had adapted to our new lives and it was already time to say goodbye. To no surprise, my heart and eyes were heavy, as I knew it was time to move forward. It was hard to say goodbye to my new best friends and the amazing learning experience we shared. I knew, though, that the “light” of GSP was a burning flame that would be ablaze in everything I do, wherever life would take me.

Throughout my experience at the Governor’s Scholar Program, I discovered a lot about myself, what I believe, and how I learn. I learned to be my best self. I realized I am an important individual with special traits that make me unique. I grasped the importance of not comparing myself to others, especially in school, and I became my own self-advocate. I also learned that sometimes it is fine to stray away from a group and do what works best for me as an individual.  I gained a greater sense of my personal values and moral principles. The validation of my beliefs led me to better understand my choices, my learning style, and myself. Surrounded by people from all areas of Kentucky, GSP allowed me to recognize how much my environment and past experiences have significantly influenced my knowledge. Based on demographics alone, many of my peers may not have had the educational opportunities I have been blessed with.

By far the most eye-opening educational experience, the Kentucky Governor’s Scholar Program showed me that life is about my own personal journey. In college and throughout my lifetime, I will use my education and knowledge to continue to seek a sense of purpose for myself. While most people think of education as traditional schooling within the walls of a classroom, after my GSP experience I view my education as something greater than course content and grades. An education is a lifelong enlightening experience. The Governor’s Scholar Program gave me the confidence and direction to start my enlightening experience. I simply have to keep a clear mind and be open to the process. By surrounding myself in a positive “GSP-like” environment, alongside supportive friends who share the same passionate desire to accomplish and succeed, I know I can courageously do anything – whether it be in college or years to come. My lifelong journey of educational enlightenment will never be complete, and I look forward to the infinite knowledge my future holds!

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