As a group, we walked in to the Georgia Aquarium shortly after 1:30 p.m. last Friday. A truly motley crew, we were 140 students, educators, parents and volunteers from McDuffie County, spending a day seeing some of the sights in Georgia's capital.
But one in our crowd stood out. Michelle was shivering as she huddled closely to her sister and her eyes were filled with tears. Terror - in the form of the Georgia Aquarium and all that it brought forth - had enveloped her.
Thirty minutes later, Michelle stood mesmerized in front of a giant reef aquarium. She giggled as she pointed at sharks, watched waves crash overhead and followed a rainbow of tangs, anthias and angel fish as they swam.
It was an amazing transformation, and one that was just part of the stories from Friday's field trip sponsored by McDuffie County Partners for Success. (Disclaimer: My wife, Miriam, is the executive director of Partners, and I was along on the trip as part of my husbandly duties.)
The day was completely planned: First a stop at the Georgia Capitol for a building tour led by State Rep. Sistie Hudson, then a pause for lunch at CNN Center, before ending the day with a couple of hours at the Georgia Aquarium.
My wife collected a notebook of comments from some of the participants. They range from a simple "thank you" from a parent to students extolling the virtues of a kind bus driver.
Then there was the note from Lillie Hill, who summed up the significance of one of the day's biggest events.
"I know that not many people make it to the Capitol unless they have some kind of political issue," she wrote. "You made it possible to me to speak to a representative and start a healthcare fire in my hometown."
Ms. Hill - who is originally from Hancock County and operates a couple of businesses in Thomson - took the opportunity during the capitol tour with Rep. Hudson to question the legislator about health care issues, taxes and other topics. She also discussed the idea of establishing a Hancock County hospital with Rep. Hudson, who also lives in Hancock.
It was certainly a special honor for the local group to have Rep. Hudson as their tour guide, but I'm sure they had no idea how special. The day before was one of the longest of the session - the last day legislators can introduce new bills. That means that legislators usually get out of the chamber after midnight.
And it meant that Rep. Hudson could have skipped Friday and gone home for a long weekend. That she didn't speaks volumes about her commitment to our community.
But perhaps the best part of the day for me was seeing the parents taking time of their lives to interact with their children and some of their children's friends. The handful of parents, including McDuffie County Coroner Rhusha Mack, understood what countless studies have shown: student achievement reflects the level of involvement of a parent or loved one.