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First Johnson Scholars Arrive at Washington and Lee

Aug. 30, 2008, the first 41 Johnson Scholars will arrive for orientation at Washington and Lee University. The Johnson Scholarship Program was established through a $100 million donation to the university in 2007. It is highly competitive and recognizes students with outstanding academic qualifications and the promise for leadership in their chosen careers and future endeavors. Scholarships are valued at between $150,000 to $200,000 over a four-year period.

“This is a group of excellent students with academic accomplishments measured against the highest national standards,” said Robert Strong, associate provost and director of the Johnson Program in Leadership and Integrity.

Twenty-two of the 41 students have at least one perfect score on a national college entrance examination, and at least five have more than one perfect score. Eleven students have earned a distinction in the National Merit competition, either a national merit scholarship or official designation as a semi-finalist or a commended student.

They are also diverse. They come from 18 different states, from New York to California and from Louisiana to Wisconsin. Two currently live overseas (in Great Britain and Poland), but many have spent extended periods in other countries or are first-generation Americans with close ties to the native countries of their parents. The international connections involve India, Russia, China, the Ukraine, Japan and Spain. Five are the first in their family to attend college.

They have a wide variety of interests. One has been performing Irish dance since second grade. Another is a costumed guide in Yorktown, and a member of a fife and drum corps. There are three Eagle Scouts, a poetry prize winner, a member of a mock trial team that came in fourth in a national competition, a second-place winner in a national patriotism essay contest, a congressional page, multiple participants in governor’s schools, and three winners of Virginia high school leadership awards. Three were presidents of their high school student body; two were heads of student judicial boards; four were captains of athletic or debate teams; one was the secretary general of a model United Nations.

Like many young people they do volunteer work of many kinds, but Strong was particularly impressed by one of the Johnson winners who has been going to Haiti for the last three summers to build latrines. “I would think that it takes some dedication to do that job more than once,” he said.

A few examples of the abilities of other Johnson winners:

A budding entrepreneur among these scholars already has experience as the designer and businesswoman behind “Miss O,” her successful brand of fashion accessories.

Another student earned first place in the State Science Fair in Medicine.

W&L students might recognize a face among the Johnson Scholars. From fourth through tenth grade, she starred in the Emmy award-winning children’s education television show “The NASA Sci-Files,” produced by NASA and aired on PBS and in classrooms across the country.

The sports are well represented among these scholars, including a girl who is both captain of and plays in the number one singles spot on the boy’s varsity tennis team. There are also two Tae Kwon Do black belts.

The $100 million gift that established the Johnson Scholarship program was the largest ever in the 259-year-old school’s history and one of the largest ever to a liberal arts college. It is structured so that $85 million will go to scholarships and need-based financial aid, and $15 million to professorships, lectures and programs focused on leadership.

Each Johnson Scholar will have his or her tuition and room and board paid in full. Some students will have full cost-of-attendance scholarships, covering tuition, room and board, travel to and from Lexington, living expenses and incidentals such as books.

“We are delighted to welcome these exceptional students,” said W&L President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “Graduating debt-free will liberate them to make more generous and visionary life decisions than would otherwise be possible.”

Representing all 50 states, D.C., and 41 countries, 1,873 students applied for the Johnson Scholarships, and W&L selected 159 to take part in the inaugural Johnson Scholarship Competition in February 2008. This was the strongest and most diverse group of scholarship finalists ever brought to campus. They boasted average SAT scores of 1,510, ranked on average in the top three percent of their classes and held positions of leadership in all facets of life.

Over the course of two days, applicants sat in on classes, met professors and mingled with students. They attended three interviews; one with a panel of faculty, one with a panel of students and one with an admissions representative. W&L weighed writing samples, teacher recommendations and records of leadership, citizenship and involvement in non-academic activities, along with their potential to contribute to the intellectual and civic life of W&L and the world at large in years to come.