By: Van Arnold
No need to ask University of Southern Mississippi junior Brandon Hersey if he believes dreams will come true. The Hattiesburg native is living one now as a winner of the prestigious Truman Scholarship.
"Just a couple nights before I found out I had gotten the scholarship, I had a dream that I'd won the Truman," said Hersey, a political science/communications studies major, who was the lone Southern Miss student chosen as a finalist this year. "It's difficult for me to put into words how much this means to me. I worked and prepared so hard for this and I'm thrilled to see all of that pay off."
Hersey is the University's third Truman Scholar and the first African American student at Southern Miss to receive the coveted prize. Marie Holowach Federer won in 2011 and Lance Brown, competing in his home state of Alabama, was the first recipient in 1999. Hersey is one of only 62 national finalists chosen for the award and the lone student representing a Mississippi university.
"This is certainly exciting news for Brandon and The University of Southern Mississippi," said Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett. "Brandon personifies everything we envision for our students and I am confident that he will represent his university admirably as he fulfills the obligations and expectations of the Truman Scholarship."
Named in honor of the late U.S. President Harry S. Truman, the Truman Scholarship is awarded to high-achieving college juniors who show commitment to public service and potential to continue that service beyond graduation. The scholarship provides up to $30,000 for graduate study in public service fields and leadership training.
"Brandon represents the best of Southern Miss and of the Honors College," said Dr. Dave Davies, dean of the Honors College. "His success with the Truman Scholarship reflects drive, sense of purpose, intelligence, and persistence. I'm proud of him for his success and thankful for the many faculty and staff who supported him as his application moved forward."
The Truman Scholarship Foundation received 629 applications from 293 colleges and universities this year and whittled the field to 199 candidates from 136 institutions of higher learning as finalists. Hersey interviewed before the Foundation's Regional Review Panel on March 27.
The elite company Hersey now finds himself keeping as a Truman Scholar is not lost on the Honors College student.
"Winning this award just opens that many more doors for me," said Hersey. "I know I'm part of an elite club now and the prestige this honor brings to me and my university is not something I will ever take for granted."
During the interview process, Hersey presented his community service platform which focuses on combating the African American high school dropout rate with a state-based mentorship program.
"This issue is so important to me because having a more educated population means that you ultimately have a better standard of living," said Hersey. "Promoting the importance of education is often times something we, as a state, fall below the bar on, as our national ranking shows. This is why I became so passionate about this particular area of study."
Davies noted that Robyn Curtis, national scholarship officer at Southern Miss, played a pivotal role in helping Hersey and Holowach Federer secure the Truman award.
"Robyn has had incredible success working with our students," said Davies. "Brandon's success is a testament to her hard work navigating the huge demands of moving his application forward."
Hersey is co-founder and vice president of the Southern Miss Debate Society. He also serves as vice president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He is the son of Roosevelt and the late Von Hersey. Hersey has his sights set on pursuing advanced degrees after completing his undergraduate work at Southern Miss.
The new Truman Scholar can already envision himself sitting in the seat currently occupied by his university's president. On April 1, Bennett began his presidency at Southern Miss, becoming the first African American president at one of Mississippi's predominantly white universities.
"I certainly can imagine that possibility. One day I would love to serve in that exact capacity," said Hersey. "Southern Miss and the undying support of its faculty and staff are truly inspiring. I am forever grateful to all who were involved in helping me achieve this goal."
The 2013 Truman Scholars will assemble May 28 for a leadership development program at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, and receive their awards in a special ceremony at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, on June 2.