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Georgia Alumni Gather at the Governor's Mansion

Georgia's former Governor Zell Miller is personally interested in the importance of education in every aspect of life. He, himself, was a history teacher at Young Harris College when he got a leave of absence to run for the Georgia state senate. It may have been something the college did just to let him get it out of his system, but he won the election. That's where his political career began. Though he was popular, his political career had its ups and downs and at one point, he considered leaving politics. He received a letter from his college mentor, Dr. E. Merton Coulter, of the University of Georgia, who encouraged him to continue his quest. Coulter predicted Miller would make it to the governor's mansion someday. It turned out to be a safe bet.

Governor Miller just retired after serving two terms as the state's top public official. His "secret" to getting as far as he did politically was to focus on a strong theme for his administration. That issue was education.

The sincerity and dedication to education that Miller exhibited throughout his tenure as governor prompted the Teachers College Institute for Education and Government to award him one of the first Thomas H. Kean Governor of the Year Awards in April of 1998. The award was first presented to Governor Miller at a special dinner held at Teachers College in April.

Many of the TC alumni from the Georgia area were not able to attend the April dinner. When discussions were held with alumnus Jerry Marcus (Ed.D. in Education Administration, 1977) about an alumni event in Georgia, the idea of honoring the governor in his home state and sharing the celebration with local TC alumni was born.

The event was held at the Governor's Mansion in Buckhead, Georgia, a small town just outside of Atlanta. "I am interested in doing whatever I can to support TC," Marcus said. Marcus had offered to hold the event at his home, until the gathering took on larger proportions. A total of 185 people attended, coming from places as close as Atlanta and as far as Longboat Key, Florida. "Down here, there is no TC group or activity that I know of," Marcus said. "I tend to think it is important to go back to your roots and not assume that once you are through with an organization, you have gotten all you can out of the experience. When you received something, you grow further if you give something."

In addition to the gathering of the alumni, Marcus said the event was exciting for another reason. "In the north, the reputation of southern schools is not good," Marcus said. He noted that Governor Miller brought about major changes in a short period of time, and got people to work together to support efforts for improvement. "I am pleased the Governor is being recognized and more pleased to know that TC is recognizing him."

Alumnus Oliver Greene, who received his M.A. in secondary school administration from TC in 1957, agreed with Marcus. "When I received the invitation to this event, I was thrilled to know that TC was honoring a governor who has done an excellent job of improving the quality of education for everyone," Greene said. "We are deeply grateful for that period he served."

As Governor, Miller created a state lottery to fund HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) scholarships for high school seniors attending state colleges. More than 300,000 students benefited from those scholarships. He created a state-funded pre-kindergarten program attended by approximately 60,000 four-year-olds. He raised teacher's salaries 6 percent every year for four years. Education touches everything, he reasoned, and it is an important issue in making things work well.

Another initiative was his Build Your Baby's Brain program, which provided the parents of newborn children with a CD of classical music to play for their children. "I have always noticed how young minds could just soak up so much information," Miller said. "I had read a lot about how certain music could stimulate connections being made even before the infant is born, and certainly in the first two years of life." He wanted to establish a program that would bring music to young children, but wasn't sure how to distribute it.

Then the answer came to him. "I was with my granddaughter when she brought her baby home from the hospital," Miller explained. "She had a bag of sample products that the hospital had given her, and it dawned on me that I could put a CD of classical music in those bags." He spoke to the hospital association about distributing them and to SONY, which has a large manufacturing plant in Georgia. "They jumped at the idea," he said.

"He's been a successful innovator in Georgia politics," said Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist, in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. "He's one of the few governors who have (sic) actually made a difference." He was voted most popular Georgia politician by a media poll shortly before the TC event.

At the reception, President Arthur Levine presented Miller with a TC sweatshirt and a crystal apple to represent education and "The Big Apple." Levine told attendees, "We are here to celebrate Zell Miller's commitment to education as Governor, before he begins his new role as an educator at Emory University and Young Harris College, and as the first Alston Chair of Higher Education at the University of Georgia."

Miller, in his remarks, noted that when his term is complete in January, education will be personal again. "Students will no longer be a demographic group of constituents, but a group of personal faces," he said. "I have a renewed sense of how important teachers are."

Miller also praised TC for emphasizing the importance of the profession. "As we think back to adults outside our family who made a difference in our own lives, it is nearly always some special teacher who touched our lives in a very special way," he said. "Teachers hold this nation's future in their hands, shaping the future of every child. I consider it the most noble profession."previous page