2017-10-11 / Editorials

Mike Reese

“I was just thinking”

Sometimes, people in our community, because of complacency, habit, or just not trying to find out differently, assume that greatness can’t be born from our schools and flourish. But it happens. It’s too easy sometimes to use our smallness, our poverty, our belief in what we hear from others that everything here is run of the mill, substandard, no potential for greatness.

But today we’re looking up, not down. What we’ll focus on today and in two future columns are four graduates who’ve gone on to do remarkable things. They’re excellent local examples for our future grads to emulate.

Our first example is a 2009 graduate of JCHS, Chester Joyner, son of Jeff and Judy Joyner of Millen. Chester received his PhD in August, 2017. My wife taught Chester as a first grader. She predicted then that he’d be his class’ valedictorian. He was not, though, only because he took so many Advanced Placement courses in college while still in high school lowering his GPA ever so slightly into Salutatorian status. Chester entered GSU just a few credits short of being a college Junior even as he received his diploma as a high school graduate.

Chester told me that his eventual career path wasn’t always his goal. His path actually began as a rising Junior at JCHS when he was selected to attend the Governor’s Honors Biology Program at Valdosta State University over one summer. This is where his “light bulb” was turned on to biology, eventually culminating with his PhD from Emory University in Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis.

I want to emphasize that “a lot” occurred between elementary school, high school, VSU summer studies, graduating from GSU, and a PhD from Emory, where’s he’s doing research in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology. Chester told me that, at times, he would hit a wall in his studies, where backing down might have been an option. He never chose that path, though. Instead, he became more determined, he said. He chose to work harder and longer, a trait probably derived from his parents.

Chester has lectured on Malaria in Indonesia and Brazil with other lectures surely coming. Keep in mind Chester is a 2009 graduate of JCHS, a small school among small schools, with a budget some schools would find impossible to work with. Yet his knowledge, begun right here in Jenkins County schools, has taken him around the globe speaking to audiences hungry for his knowledge of Malaria. I asked him if there had ever been a “pinch myself” moment while he was speaking to other scholars when he thought back to Millen and his high school alma mater wondering how all this happened. Was there disbelief? He responded, saying “maybe once.” My guess is that this is exactly where he expected to be all along.

Chester’s long term goals are what impress me most. He doesn’t count his PhD research as an end, a present to himself. While talking with Chester he told me that he wants to eventually establish a permanent international research program focusing on Malaria. “Current numbers from the World Health Organization suggests that a child dies every two minutes from Malaria,” according to Chester. This grim statistic drives him to pursue such a lofty goal.

These are not goals set by someone who graduated from a local small school system flush with money, flush with wellfunded science labs, flush with Ivy League educated teachers. But Chester’s elementary, middle, and high school are flush with dedicated teachers and administrators. Mix these with his determination and dedication and what you get is Chester Joyner, PhD, employed by Emory University and proud to call Jenkins County and its schools home.

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