I found this tucked in a yearbook. The author, unknown to me, addresses his/her thoughts to students. It’s quite wonderful. I can see Miss Nelson standing on the steps greeting students. In fact, more than forty years ago, Mrs. Gorham spoke about Miss Nelson’s morning greetings to all.
“Just who was Georgia Nelson? We have her picture hanging as you go up the stairs in the building with her name. We have awards that carry her name.* Just who was she anyway? Well, she was Graland’s founding headmistress. From 1927 until her retirement in the early 1960’s, she firmly and lovingly guided our school. But that does not really say who she is. For two generations of Graland students, she represented the heart and soul of the school. But what does that mean?
“My first day as a student at Graland was in September of 1959. And as a brand new student I walked up the green steps of the old Georgia Nelson Building, and there at the top was Miss Nelson to welcome and greet me. She somehow knew my name on the first day. Well, that was my introduction to Georgia Nelson, and every day that I came to school until Miss Nelson retired, she greeted me and every other Graland student as we reached the top of these green steps.
“Miss Nelson came to our classes. She had us read to her, she substituted when our regular teachers were gone, and she always seemed to know just what we were studying and how to teach us. I will never forget a day when I was in second grade, in the Humphreys Building** where the second graders are today, when Miss Nelson came into our classroom and asked me to read for her and to the rest of the class. I was terrified, but at the same time, I was proud, for you see Miss Nelson had virtually every student read to her at some time or another-- it’s just you never quite knew when she was going to ask YOU. Nervous as I was, I made it through the experience, and Miss Nelson made me feel proud of what I had accomplished.
“Miss Nelson was a demanding teacher. She expected the best from each student. But I hasten to point out that she also recognized that the best from one student was not necessarily the best from another. Each of us had to continually strive to do the very best that we could. For Miss Nelson, the most important part of an education was for children to understand how to learn and more important, how to learn.
“For generations of Graland students. . . Graland has done just that. Each of us who has benefited from a Graland education leaves the place knowing that we can learn and knowing there is a special joy in learning. This joy is the legacy of Georgia Nelson, and the awards that bear her name give testament to this legacy. And in all of your teachers, a bit of Georgia Nelson lives on, and your teachers are sharing that little bit with each of you every single day. They make you work hard, but they make you proud of what you have accomplished. They help you set high standards for yourself; they share with you the joy of learning; they share with you Georgia Nelson.”
*The school no longer awards the Georgia Nelson prize in each discipline; in 2008 the school pared down the number of prizes and now awards three prizes: the John Comfort Headmaster’s Award. The Timothy Johnson Service and Leadership Award, and the Georgia Nelson Award.
**The Humphrey’s Building now houses our Early Childhood Learning Center named in honor of Ronni McCaffrey.