SYLVANIA, GA (WTOC) - Dr. Lee Berger, international scientist and discoverer, stood on the stage of the Screven County High auditorium for the first time since he received his diploma here, 27 years ago.
"Here, there's a sense of warmth and a sense of family that's very hard to describe," said Dr. Berger.
Much of the student body packed the room to hear from the hometown boy who now teaches at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He also turned the scientific world on its ear with the recent discovery of fossils from a previously unknown species of man. He is a source of pride for many, including teachers who could not have predicted his success way back then.
"He was a good kid," recalled his 11th grade science teacher, Tommie Evans. "But you never know. Your future doctors, lawyers, scientists sit in front of you every day," she added.
Some classmates dropped by to say hello and said there was always a hunch that Lee, known then by his middle name Rod, would go places.
"He was an Eagle scout, president of FFA and always into discovering things, digging up stuff back then," said Michelle Lariscy, who graduated with him in 1984. "Maybe we should have sat closer together so I would have learned as much as he did."
Neither Berger nor the teachers expected all the students to grasp the magnitude of his historic find. But that wasn't the lesson.
"The world is a great big, tiny place and it can be reached from Screven County, from Statesboro, from anywhere," Berger stated. "I do think some of them sit and think 'Because of where I'm from, because of what I'm taught that I'm disadvantaged.' They're not I'm living proof of that."
He hoped his example leads students to anywhere they wish to go. During his stateside visit, Berger also spoke at Georgia Southern University and stopped by WTOC to see former co-workers when he was a videojournalist.