Ron Shipman has a favorite saying: "Sometimes the baby is just ugly."
It's a phrase that I've heard dozens of times since I began the sixth-month journey through Leadership McDuffie in January.
Every time we'd discuss a statistic that painted a poor portrait of McDuffie County, Ron would bring up the ugly baby. In other words, maybe the numbers aren't that great -- poverty is too high, education rates are too low, you get the point -- but McDuffie County is our baby and we should love it and try our best to make it better.
And when it all comes down to it, the baby really ain't that ugly.
Take teen pregnancy rates, for example. McDuffie's numbers are at one of the lowest points in the last 10 years, something communities across the state should be jealous of.
Our students are performing superbly on standardized tests. Several of our schools are continually recognized as among the best in the state.
The cooperation between our local governments is a model of how such relationships should be (just look 30 miles up I-20 for an example of how a single government can't cooperate with itself.)
And, of course, our county raised more money per capita than probably any other community in the nation during the recent Relay for Life.
Life is a matter of perspective -- it is all in what you look at and how you look at it. There certainly are problems in our county and I am in no way advocating that we should ignore them. I'm just saying focusing all our attention on them will do no good.
McDuffie County should never be afraid to toot its horn. And none of us should be ashamed to call it home.
Speaking of Leadership McDuffie, more than a dozen local folks -- myself included -- officially graduated from the class last week. The graduation ceremony, actually a very informal barbecue dinner, was held in Alan Shapiro's garage in beautiful Jewell, Ga. For those of you who do not know where Jewell is: go toward Milledgeville through Warrenton. (Watch for city policemen and their radar guns on the by-pass, trust me.) Several miles outside of Warrenton, you'll eventually pass over the Ogeechee River. Assuming you don't blink, you're in Jewell.
Alan's place is a true jewel in that community, cement elephant and all. For those of us in Leadership McDuffie's Class of 2004, it was a chance to get together one more time. We've formed wonderful friendships since January, many which will continue far beyond our class.
Admittedly, the whole process seemed cumbersome at times, but I can honestly say Leadership McDuffie was worth my time. When time comes to sign up next year, do not hesitate. You'll learn more about Thomson, Dearing and McDuffie than you ever thought you could know.
And, most importantly, you'll come away with a deeper love for our baby -- even if it is ugly sometimes.