Grace George doesn’t remember her name.
She met her at a local shelter when George and her sorority sisters brought in meals. The woman was sitting at a kitchen table when George came in. She wanted to talk, and she wanted to talk to George.
“Yeah,” she told George. “I’ve always wanted to go to college.”
Their conversation began. George was 19, a sophomore; the woman was in her late 20s, staying at the Carpenter House, a shelter for women who’ve experienced domestic violence. She was with her 2-year-old son. As her son ran around them with a basketball in his hands, the woman asked George about options.
They talked for at least 10 minutes. George saw firsthand how her education at High Point University will stretch far beyond the classroom.
“It opened my eyes,” she says today. “It showed me that I’m in a position to help people, and I need to do so.”
George, a senior from Wheeling, West Virginia, is HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of March.
She’s a Presidential Scholar, a member of HPU’s Honors Scholar Program and a Student Justice. She will graduate in May with her degrees in sport management and political science – and two weeks later, she’ll head to Claude W. Pettit College of Law at Ohio Northern University to begin the next chapter of her life.
Her interest in becoming a lawyer blossomed at HPU. So did her interest in specializing legal issues involving sports.
It was through an opportunity, she thought, was too good to be true.
Dr. Jenny Lukow, chair of HPU’s sports management department, wanted George to go. She was George’s advisor, and she had always been impressed by her. But Lukow needed an answer by the next day.
She sent George and three other students an email about the big news. They could spend three days in Dallas with Cynt Marshall, the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks and HPU’s Sports Executive in Residence. They just needed to say yes.
Lukow highlighted her email to get their attention. It did, especially with George.
“This has got to be fake,” George told herself.
George emailed Lukow. She was wrong. It was real, and in October 2019, George went to Dallas. When Marshall met George and the three other students, she hugged them. George’s academic whirlwind began.
“I knew she would learn as much as she could from this experience and apply those lessons to her life,” Lukow says.
“I was in complete awe,” George says. “It was a great perspective, a magical perspective.”
She and the three other students talked to Marshall, talked with others in the Mavericks’ organization, asked Marshall questions and watched her do her job from a few feet away.
George saw her first NBA game. The Mavericks played the Washington Wizards. She also firmed up her idea of what she wants to do with her law degree –– marry her love for sports and politics and specialize in the sports industry law.
“It’s one of the intangible opportunities you find only at High Point,” she says. “You can only learn so much in school, and with its Innovators in Residence program, High Point gives you access to real-life professionals and they share with you what you need to know.”
As for Dallas, George still gushes about it. She also remembers the reaction from her brother, Mason, the former college Division-1 soccer player, the one she poked, fought with and competed against for accolades at the Linsly School.
“You, a little girl from West Virginia,” he said to his little sister. “And you get to go.”
George laughs about that.
She was walking through the family room on her way outside to play soccer when she saw her dad, Ned, an attorney, watching the 1962 film, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The story revolves around a white attorney named Atticus Finch who defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge in 1930s Alabama.
George sat down with her dad and watched the rest of the film. Afterward, she made a declaration.
“Dad,” she told him, “I want to be a lawyer.”
Her dad knew his middle child was driven. He had coached her in soccer and ice hockey for years. She started playing soccer at age 3 and ice hockey at age 5. But George’s dad was a bit perplexed with her latest interest.
“G,” he said, calling her by her nickname, “You’re only 12.”
Her interest in the law, though, never waned. When she began her freshman year at HPU, she moved in with other members of the Honors Scholar Program into the same residence hall. She considered where they lived as a sign about her future.
She moved into Finch Hall.
That same year, George became a Student Justice on the Judicial Conduct Board for the Office of Student Life.
That opportunity had her sitting in on cases, hearing from students and making decisions on cases involving conduct policies. It was exactly what she was looking for – a chance to explore her interest in law.
But what she found was something bigger. She had meaningful conversations with students about ethics and values and discovered with every case the practical application of integrity, honesty and compassion.
“Those conversations are where changes are made,” she says. “People perceive Student Justice as this scary place where you go when you get in trouble. It’s not. We all learn from one another, and we have these conversations about how to make High Point a better place.”
George’s role in adjudicating cases only grew.
She’s now the board’s Associate Chief Justice, and she helps oversee at least three hearings a week. She’s also the former chapter president of Phi Alpha Delta, HPU’s pre-law fraternity. Meanwhile, since this summer, she researches legal issues as the compliance intern for HPU Athletics.
She’s come a long way since sitting down with her dad and watching “To Kill A Mockingbird.” After three years as a Student Justice, she has learned much during her time wearing a black robe with the purple letters of her campus nickname stitched over her heart – GG.
The Judicial Conduct Board has given her an up-close look at her future and an education into herself. She realized that during one of her recent interviews for law school.
“You’re an articulate speaker,” one interviewer told her.
“It’s because of the Student Justice program,” she replied.
George grew up around three generations in a house built nearly a century ago. Her extended family is close.
They volunteer, go to church and support the Linsly School, an institution rich in tradition. The Linsly School began in 1814. It’s the oldest preparatory school in West Virginia and draws students from 30 states and 22 different countries.
Her dad went there. Her brother, Mason, 23, a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley, went there. Her 18-year-old sister, Lily, goes there. And George is a graduate.
George ran track, captained the girls’ soccer team, and became a student leader as a prefect, or a member of the student council.
She also got interested in politics by taking an AP Government class taught by her dad’s old teacher. She sat in the same classroom where her dad learned in the same, as she says, “old rickety chairs.”
She heard about HPU from the Linsly students who went there, and she visited the university on Presidential Scholars weekend. She heard HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein speak, and she talked to professors during her interviews. She knew HPU was for her.
“I saw it in all its glory,” she says. “The way Dr. Qubein spoke about the student body and the interviews with the professors. And a student, I can’t remember his name for the life of me, but we were downstairs in Wanek and he came up to me and talked to me, mom and dad.”
He wished her good luck in her college search. That friendly approach resonated with her.
“I knew I wanted to go to law school at 12, but I didn’t know what I wanted to major in,” she says. “I wanted to go have conversations about that and not have a book thrown at me. I didn’t want to be a number.”
At HPU, George found her major – or really two.
She found friends. She rushed Alpha Chi Omega sorority and found 200 sisters more than six hours from her home.
She also found support. In the fall of her sophomore year, her paternal grandfather had his first stroke, her maternal grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, and her 23-year-old cousin committed suicide.
“I’ve always closed off my emotions to keep things more professional,” she says. “I get that from my dad. But I was so far away from home, and I realized I’m not a one-woman show. I needed to have strong relationships. I found out I’m someone who needs that. So, I went to my Alpha Chi sisters. They truly got me through a pretty tough month.”
George found out on a Sunday in April she lost her paternal grandfather, Edward Metcalf George II. He was 84.
She’ll always remember him in as the sharp-dressed man whose idea of comfort was a button-down shirt and Sperry Top-Siders. He was a banker, the former president and CEO of WesBanco, and he never missed spending time with his four grandchildren. That includes seeing George on a big event in her young life –– her junior prom in 2016.
George flew home for the memorial service. She needed to be with her family, her grandmother and her dad, her grandfather’s oldest son. Family for her is important. She left campus on a Thursday. She came back on a Monday. Her grandfather, the man she called “Grandad,” would’ve wanted it that way.
“It fits,” she says. “He was one of the most selfless, hardworking people I know, and I want to honor his legacy, and he wanted nothing more than for his grandchildren to succeed. When I told him I was going to law school, he was really excited about it.”
So, now when George thinks about her Extraordinary Leader award, she’ll think about “Grandad.”
“That’s why,” she says, “I want to dedicate this to him.”