11:21 a.m., April 6, 2009----William Rivers, a University of Delaware student who will graduate in 2010 with an Honors Degree with Distinction in international relations with a concentration in U.S. foreign policy, has been named a 2009 Truman Scholar.
A resident of Wilmington and graduate of the Salesianum School, Rivers is the seventh University of Delaware student to win the award in the last eight years, bringing to 17 the number of UD students who have earned the prestigious scholarship since it was founded more than 30 years ago.
Rivers said he learned he had won the award on Tuesday, March 24, while in a class taught by Katherin Rogers, professor of philosophy. He got the news from Tom Apple, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Katharine Kerrane, senior associate director of UD's Honors Program.
“I saw Katharine Kerrane and Dean Tom Apple standing in the back of the classroom, and they told me that they had heard from the Truman Scholarship Foundation and that I had won,” Rivers said. “They asked me to say a few things, and I managed to get out that I thanked them and thanked God, and that was it. I was so grateful.”
The scholarship provides $30,000 for graduate study. Truman scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at several premier graduate institutions, as well as leadership training, career and graduate school counseling and special internship opportunities within the federal government.
Recipients must be U.S. citizens, have an outstanding record of academic achievement and leadership ability, and be committed to careers in government or the not-for-profit sector.
For Rivers, the Truman Scholarship will help to pay for law school, which he said he hopes will eventually lead to a career as a U.S. Attorney or a federal prosecutor.
“These positions are the point of contact between humans and the Department of Justice,” Rivers said. “Going to law school would give me the opportunity to be the best advocate I could be. I will pray about it and talk about it. It's a fantastic opportunity, and I want to see how I can benefit the most people by doing this.”
Rivers said that among his top choices for law school would be the University of Virginia, because of its criminal law and human rights law programs and the fact that its alumni include Bobby Kennedy, who served as U.S. Attorney General in the administration of his brother, then-President John F. Kennedy.
“Bobby Kennedy was both a cold warrior and an amazingly humanitarian one at that,” Rivers said. “He was one of the first American politicians to go to South Africa and criticize the government for its policy of apartheid.”
With a long time interest in history and politics, Rivers said he picked international relations and foreign policy at UD because of its big picture approach to ideas and the way they influence the lives of people across the nation and around the world.
“I picked the foreign policy concentration because the United States is a world superpower and a lot of what happens around the world depends on what America does,” Rivers said. “The foreign policy you enact says what you believe about human rights and how you take care of people abroad.”
An active participant in the local political scene as president of the College Republicans, Rivers also participated in the Legislative Fellows Program in 2007-08, in what he called a very informative and educational experience.
“This was a great opportunity. Delaware is a small state, and I got to work in House of Representatives in the Delaware General Assembly,” Rivers said. “I got to know these people and this also led me to work for Charlie Copeland, who ran for lieutenant governor for the state of Delaware in 2008.”
Describing politics as “the greatest show on earth,” Rivers said that being involved in the political process is at once fun, frustrating and fulfilling.
“You do it because it impacts people's lives, the people you care about, and because you have a stake in it,” Rivers said. “I'm a strong believer in the dignity of human lives and government has one of the largest impacts on how those lives are lived.”
Volunteer activities for Rivers include the Elsmere Senior Center and Birthright of Delaware, as well as helping to build houses in Appalachia during summer vacation.
When not in the classroom or the campaign trail, Rivers enjoys writing and making science fiction films.
“My favorite film is The Thing from Another World, with James Arness, of Gunsmoke fame as the monster,” Rivers said. “The great thing about the movie is that its is entirely dialog-driven, with a few creepy action sequences, where people have close calls and then talk about it. This is story telling at its finest, where you let the imaginations of the people take over.”
Rivers also plans to write a novel based on his uncle and about growing up on a farm that is now part of White Clay Creek State Park in Newark.
“This was such a neat place. You could get to Newark in 10 minutes if you wanted to, but it was really a world of its own, where you could play any kind of games you wanted,” Rivers said. “The characters will be loosely based on my uncle and my family and what it was like growing up there.”
Rivers credits Kerrane, Ray Peters, Coordinator of the Writing Fellows Program, and Devon Miller-Duggan, distinguished student scholars mentor in the University of Delaware Honors Program, as being among faculty who were very supportive in all stages of the application process, which included an interview at the Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve System.
“I am delighted that Bill has won the Truman Scholarship. He was a pleasure to work with, and I think he is genuinely committed to a career in public service,” Kerrane said. “In addition to awarding Bill a scholarship, the Truman Scholarship Foundation hosts a Truman Leadership Week in Missouri. I think that week will be a wonderful opportunity for Bill to interact with students from all over the country who are also interested in careers in public service.”
Also making a difference through their encouragement and advice during the application and awarding process were family and friends, Rivers said.
“I want to thank my parents, Bill and Elizabeth Rivers. Good parents are a serious blessing, and I've got two of the best,” Rivers said. “My friends were also supportive, lifting me up when I was down and letting me know when I was slacking.”
The Truman Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1975 as a federal memorial to the Harry S. Truman, the nation's 33rd president.
The Foundation awards up to 65 scholarships nationwide for college students to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in government elsewhere in public service.
In 2004, UD was one of only three institutions that were recognized as a Truman Foundation Honor Institution, joining a select group of institutions that have received the honor in the foundation's 31-year history. Past recipients include Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities.
Selection of UD as an Honor Institution was based on the University's active encouragement of outstanding young people to pursue careers in public service, its sustained success in helping its students win Truman Scholarships and having a current Truman Scholar.
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photo by Kathy Atkinson