The full experience: N.C. Teacher of the Year & students visit state capital

By Sayer Kirk
Special to the Times-News

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Members of Williams High School’s Student Leadership Academy have a "working lunch" with N.C. Sen. Rick Gunn and state reps. Stephen Ross and Dennis Riddell. [Tammy Ross / Special to the Times-News

   RALEIGH — On May 30, Williams High School’s Student Leadership Academy and members of the 2017-18 Student Council executive board traveled to the state capital to tour the governor’s mansion and capitol building, and to be introduced on the floor of the Senate.
Hosts were N.C. Sen. Rick Gunn, Alamance County’s representative, and his wife, Gayle. They made sure that we got the full experience — including meeting the first lady of North Carolina and the first dog, Ben.
When we arrived in Raleigh, we made the trek to the legislative building where we were met by Gunn and his wife.
Rep. Chuck McGrady took time to speak to us about the importance of social media in a political atmosphere and how he is one of the only representatives with an active blog. We were on a tight schedule and had to be at the governor’s mansion on time for our tour, which was amazing.
North Carolina is one of only a few states in which the governor actually lives in the mansion. This prohibited us from seeing the entire mansion, but the first level was absolutely breathtaking.
From the decorative hinges to the once-white staircase that was scraped with dental tools back to its original color, everything in this mansion is intentional. As we walked outside of the mansion, a woman in a yellow T-shirt and black yoga pants walked into the yard with a beautiful dog. We didn’t recognize her at first. It was the first lady of North Carolina, Kristin Cooper, with Ben. We stopped to chat with her for a little while.
After the governor’s mansion tour, we were led to a conference room in the capitol building where we had a working lunch with Gunn and state Reps. Dennis Riddell and Stephen Ross.
As students, we had the opportunity to ask questions of these elected officials and found out Gunn’s “hot button issue,” getting money into rural communities. Following lunch, we made a quick visit to Gunn’s office where we heard about the many adventures of a senator, saw his marvelous elephant collection, and then had a tour of the roof.
As we stood atop the capitol building, we were told stories about the beige building in the background, and the garden surrounding us.
To conclude our visit to Raleigh, we joined the senators for the General Assembly and we were recognized on the floor, which is a big deal.
Not only were we recognized on the floor of the Senate, but Freebird McKinney, North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year was also recognized.
McKinney is a teacher that everyone at Williams knows.
You are guaranteed a fist bump and an enthusiastic “What’s up?” or just your name shouted loudly. I regularly get a drawn-out “Kirk” with a fist bump. Anyone who has had Freebird McKinney as a teacher knows just how special his class is, from meditation to learning about Taoism to student-led final projects. It is no shock to anyone at Williams that he was recognized as North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year.

Sayer Kirk is a rising junior at Williams High School.

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