The pitch-perfect delivery of “I Will Always Love You” echoed through the crowd during the graduation ceremony for the T. Wingate Andrews High School class of 2021. The song, sung by none other than Andrews’ principal, Dr. Marcus Gause, led to cheers, whistles, and applause. Clearly, this was more than just lyrics in a song to Dr. Gause – this was his heart for his students.
The third verse, which croons, “I hope life treats you kind, and I hope you have all you've dreamed of, and I'm wishing you joy and happiness, but above all this, I wish you love,” rang out to Dr. Gause loud and clear, when he was choosing a song to sing for his graduating seniors. An outburst of song from Dr. Gause was not a new occurrence, in fact, it’s become something of a tradition for Andrews’ principal to serenade his students over his last five years as principal. But these lyrics, this moment, perfectly encapsulated all that has made Dr. Gause the educator he is today and all he hoped to impart to these seniors.
Because after 17 years in education, Dr. Gause had learned what students carry with them long after their turn their tassels: love.
Watch Dr. Gause, Andrews Principal singing, "I Will Always Love You."
"If I can teach you the power of love then I feel like we are well on our way to creating a productive citizen,” says Dr. Gause. "Loving and understanding provides you with a different relationship with your neighbors who live in your community.”
For Dr. Gause, it’s the love that was planted in his own life that led him down this path – the path of being an administrator, a student advocate, a community leader, and even a viral singing sensation.
When Dr. Gause was just a boy growing up in Supply, North Carolina, his grandmother would often have him work their farm. In the afternoons after school, and even some early mornings before he left for school, Dr. Gause would be charged with herding the pigs back into their pen and rebuilding the parts that had been broken.
“I learned the value of hard work,” Dr. Gause says of his childhood. “And I learned some critical thinking skills because trying to get a 400-to-500-pound pig back into a pen is not easy!”
It was on this farm, raised by his grandmother who never had higher than an eighth-grade education, and in his church that Dr. Gause also learned an analogy that would stick with him throughout his life: you reap what you sow.
“If you plant love, you’ll get love. If you plant hate, you’ll get hate,” Dr. Gause says. “Whatever it is that you plant, those things will come back to life.”
Many years later, Dr. Gause found himself working as a substitute teacher and then eventually an administrator in Orange County. While he didn’t have a lifelong desire to work as an educator, over and over again, life confirmed to Dr. Gause that he had a way of getting through even the toughest to reach students.
After leaving a career at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing under the U.S. Treasury Department, Dr. Gause went on to work in administration at Dudley High School and the Middle College at A&T University, as well as working closely with Title I, a federal program that offers assistance to educationally and economically disadvantaged students. Eventually, he was offered the principalship at Andrews.
But as Dr. Gause began to learn about the challenges facing High Point, including growing food insecurity, he was uncertain about his ability to make the transition and lead at Andrews.
“I had conversation with my dad... about this transition, and he said, “If not you, then who? And if not now, then when?’” Dr. Gause recalls. “Those words have stayed with me forever.”
And it was within the first year of his principalship at Andrews that Dr. Gause had to watch his father battle and ultimately pass away from cancer. When his first graduation day at Andrews came around on Father’s Day weekend – his first Father’s Day without his dad – Dr. Gause found a way to gain strength and honor his father through their shared love of music.
“That was the first graduation that I sang at. I think I sang to get me through that day, that moment,” he remembers. “One of the songs that I remember my dad listening to was ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me.’ It was kind of off the cuff. I didn't expect it, and I hadn't planned for it.”
But in the years to come, Dr. Gause would honor the tradition every year, remembering his father, celebrating his students, and reminding his students to believe in themselves – just as his father had challenged him.
And no one embodied that belief like one student who marched into Dr. Gause’s office in her freshman year and asked, “What does it take to become valedictorian?” After he reviewed the qualifications with her and she assured him she would be the top student, Dr. Gause said,
“Well if you believe it, I believe it.”
"Our 2021 valedictorian this year with that same student who had that conversation with me,” Dr. Gause says. “She was the epitome and the evidence of what happens when you believe.”
It was in a meeting with the valedictorian, working on her speech, that Dr. Gause came across the idea to sing, “I Will Always Love You.” And while Dr. Gause wasn’t so sure he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston – “Know your limits!” he jokes – when he heard the line: “I hope life treats you kind and I hope you have all you've dreamed of,” he knew this was the song for the Class of 2021.
“I challenged youth to do just that – to believe,” says Dr. Gause. “Believe in the impossible, believe you have the power to be able to change your circumstances. Believe you can be whatever you decided you want to be. You might not have to take the path that everybody else has taken, but if you simply believe in yourself, that's more than half the battle. The other half is for us to teach you how to get there.”
For Dr. Gause, “us” includes a lot more than just the faculty and staff at Andrews; it includes the entire High Point community. Because while the problems facing some Andrews students are heavy, they are often outweighed by the readiness of our citizens to help meet those needs.
“I was blown away that High Point was one of the largest food deserts in the nation,” Dr. Gause says, remembering his first look at the food insecurity statistics at his new school. Soon, Dr. Gause was working with non-profits like the Out of the Garden Project to support food security for his students, but their needs went beyond food. He remembers one student who slept in the rain outside of Andrews, where faculty found him the next day. And while Dr. Gause is thankful that the school is seen as a haven where kids can seek shelter, safety, and food, he knows the needs are greater than the school can meet on their own.
“It was a challenge to get all of the needs met very quickly,” he recalls. Along with some of his faculty and staff, Dr. Gause began making “house calls,” going door-to-door to make parents and families aware of the resources Andrews offered, and to hear first-hand what needs they were facing. Armed with more information, Dr. Gause sought out partnerships in our city to make sure the barriers to education were reduced even further for his students.
“In High Point, the resources are readily available. It's just making sure that we continue to build a bridge so that we can have access to those resources,” says Dr. Gause. “Our citizens have always wanted to try to figure it out, sometimes people just don't know how... We've tried to bridge that gap by bringing all those partners to the table and hearing what they have to offer and how they can help with school."
He notes that no need has ever been rejected when brought to a community partner or individual. From food to clothing, to shelter, to furniture, to transportation, to electronics and equipment, Andrews has experienced an outpouring of love from the High Point community when presented with a need.
“It speaks to the power of community that we have here in High Point,” Dr. Gause says. “And they have not done so in small ways, but in major, big ways. That for me is what begins to help evolve our community.”
And it’s with the support of the community that Dr. Gause and his faculty are able to encourage their students to become contributing citizens, making an impact and following their dreams.
“There have been students that have come to us that have had some very difficult challenges, but one of the things that we do as a school staff is not to allow those challenges to impact what you're capable of,” says Dr. Gause. “I can’t let them shortchange themselves. And Andrews’ students are surrounded by educators who believe the same.”
Today, a year after Dr. Gause sang the words, “I will always love you,” to his graduating class, the students at Andrews’ know that the song holds a truth that will remain after they receive their diploma and go onto the next chapter of life.
“At the end of the day, you're always going to have somebody in your corner,” Dr. Gause tells his students. “This bald-headed guy is going to be somewhere around to help you from now until one of us closes our eyes."
Dr. Gause has seen his students transform their lives, simply because they know someone loves them and believes in them. He can tell story after story of students on their way to expulsion who turned their academic careers around, students who were constantly sent to in-school suspension who are now entrepreneurs, students who had no interest in school who went on to graduate. But as Dr. Gause knows, it’s not grandiose gifts or magical moments that change lives; it’s consistency, it’s availability, it’s the “always” in “I will always love you.”
"We have stuck with just loving kids,” Dr. Gause says of the Andrews staff and faculty. "Love changes your perspective. You don't necessarily have to agree with everybody's opinions, but it does allow you to love people in spite of their different opinions, loving their differences and their uniqueness. And I think if we look at the world in that way, that's probably one of the most powerful pieces that we can do to change our world and community.”
"Love changes your perspective. You don't necessarily have to agree with everybody's opinions, but it does allow you to love people in spite of their different opinions, loving their differences and their uniqueness. And I think if we look at the world in that way, that's probably one of the most powerful pieces that we can do to change our world and community.”
Dr. Marcus Gause, Principal at Andrews High School
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The HPD Team