By: Veronica Burniston
For many people the month of June marks the beginning of summer vacations and road trips. For students it means hours at the local pool, and for teachers it offers much needed breathing room. However, for one retired teacher in particular, this past June offered much more as she traveled to Washington D.C. to receive recognition for her Excellence in Teaching and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Presidential Scholars.
Peggy (Park) Kirksey, the wife of the late Robert Kirksey, was raised in Watauga County, NC and from a very young age knew she had a heart for teaching.
I knew I was going to be a teacher the first day I went into the first grade, Kirksey recalled in an interview. When I looked up at my teacher, I said to myself, I will be just like that.
Fueling her forward, Kirkseys unwavering desire to teach carried her through numerous years of school and eventually into her very own teaching position.
In 1983, while Kirksey taught in Birmingham, Alabama, one of her students, John Knox, was selected as a Presidential Scholar. He and Kirksey were invited to the White House where they and the other selected Scholars would be honored for their Pursuit of Excellence.
Established through an Executive Order by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, the annual selection of Presidential Scholars concentrates on encouraging great achievement in students of secondary schools (public and private) throughout the United States. Two students, one male and one female, are chosen from each state, The District of Columbia, The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, as well as two from the collective group of American Samoa, Canal Zone, Guam, Virgin Islands, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and, if the Commission in its discretion shall so determine, other places overseas. In total 106 Presidential Scholars are annually awarded the Presidential Scholars Medallion at the White House.
During their 1983 visit, Kirksey and Knox were honored with the opportunity to hear former President Ronald Reagan speak at the celebration. The year 1983 was extremely significant, since it was the first year teachers received Certificates of Excellence for their persistence and passion in educating and encouraging students in their pursuit of academic excellence and achievement.
Thirty-one years after this monumental day, Kirksey, a retired teacher of thirty-three years now residing in Johnson County, and Dr. John Knox, a professor of Meteorology at the University of Georgia, returned to the White House for the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Presidential Scholars, where Kirksey received a picture plaque taken of her, her student, and the representative of Alabama during their 1983 visit. In the near future, this plaque will be added to the University of Georgias archives to celebrate the memories and achievements of Dr. John Knox and his former teacher, Peggy Kirksey.
Although shes currently retired, Kirksey continues her pursuit of excellence, albeit in quite an unexpected field: doll-making. Her interest in molding and designing intricately detailed dolls began shortly after her retirement: After I retired in Birmingham, Kirksey said, there was a Japanese artist that came to town and I got on the waiting list to go see him do his work. I went three times, became very interested, took good notes, started getting my supplies, and started making dolls.
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