ALBANY, Ga. -- Albany State University's HPER Gymnasium was filled with crayon box colors Thursday morning as the Dougherty County School System held a back-to-school rally for teachers and system employees.
Teachers from the county's 30 schools and learning centers wore their respective school colors and reacted wildly as the gathering kicked off with gospel music.
Part church service, part pep rally, the meeting -- which wasn't held last year due to budget constraints -- featured speakers ranging from Albany Mayor Willie Adams to new Superintendent Joshua Murfree.
While the crowd's shirts were colored differently, the speakers sounded the same message -- focus on education and the children.
ASU President Everette Freeman led off by stressing the ties between the university and the DCSS.
"You know, I caught some criticism for offering the (free) use of our facility for this event," Freeman said, "but let me ask you this: if you got your degree from Albany State University, or you've attended class at Albany State University ... stand up!"
The bulk of the crowd of 2,500-plus stood and cheered loudly. Adams then took to the dais.
"When you get back to the classroom, hug that child, encourage that child because one day he or she might grow up to be president of the United States," Adams said. "Education is the key to their success. It is the key to our success."
Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard followed by urging the crowd to remember that "our children are our most important asset here in Dougherty County."
The biggest cheers were reserved for Murfree who delivered a sermon-like roughly 20-minute pep talk to the multi-hued dressed gathering.
"Open your minds and hearts to education," Murfree exhorted. "We need to let the nation know where Albany, Ga., is. We need to tell the nation what the DCSS is all about. We want people who don't even work in the DCSS to walk up and ask to wear one of our pins.
"Education is the passport to everything we'll do for the rest of our lives. It sets the path for our children."
Murfree then listed several of his goals for the upcoming school year.
"We want a cost-neutral system, we don't want to borrow any money unless we absolutely have to," the superintendent said. "We want to make our system more tech-savvy. We want to implement an aggressive re-enrollment program to bring dropouts back into the system. We want an aggressive marketing campaign, not just locally, but nationally.
"We should challenge ourselves every day and in everything we do. We must take time each day to think, 'What else can I do?' "
Murfree then urged the crowd to, "Unleash your greatness. Don't let it lie dormant anymore. Bring a positive attitude to work every day.
Attitudes can make or break love, marriages, homes, churches and schools.
"Always remember that when you give to a child, one day he or she will give to others."
School begins Monday for the about 16,000-student Dougherty County School System.