Sue and I finished our last assigned region right before lunch, and it was an interesting one -- not very strong, actually. 14 applicants -- we could award 2 scholarships, name one for a second read, and give one an honorable mention.
There were six files that we both agreed were clearly not close to being in the conversation (six! that's a lot), four that were ok, but not really worth talking about, and then a Final Four (gratuitous basketball reference!) to consider more closely.
One of the scholars in the region was clear (the Truman finalist from the same region as one of my students) -- we both really liked that file a lot. That leaves three.
Two were very good, but not at the level of Udall Scholars. We chose one of the two as the honorable mention -- the file (not advised by a NAFAn, I will add) could have benefitted from some good advising. It seemed like this kid had a lot of good experiences, but the experiences were poorly described. We couldn't quite figure out what the applicant's role had been in their leadership experiences, or what the outcomes were -- but it seemed like good work. The letters of rec didn't help much, as they were entirely focused on academics.
We added a note to the one we named for a second read saying that we thought it should remain as an honorable mention. Really good stuff; not great. Not a scholar.
And that left one more file. Oh, but did we have to talk about that one. I loved this file. Loved, loved, loved it. There were flaws to it -- the career goals were horribly vague, and the leadership could be better -- but there was so much about this kid that just jumped off the page at me. It had the best Mo essay I've read all weekend. Most of all, the writing throughout was just thoughtful. After reading a lot of essays that tend to seem the same (note on the essay: the thesis statement "Mo's words ring true today" is not original...), you come to appreciate and look for good, creative, dedicated, and intelligent writing. And the letters of rec for this kid? Wooo. Off the charts.
Sue wasn't feeling it. We were about 8 points off in our ratings when we started the discussion. I made the case. Sue still didn't buy it. In the end, I may have put my foot down too hard, but this was truly one of my favorite files of the week, and I just wanted this applicant to win. Sue was gracious enough to go along with it, and I can't wait to see the impact this student has at orientation in August.
It's a strange thing, reading these files and thinking about these students. As readers, we're invited to the orientation weekend in August, but have to pay our own way -- given the economy and the cost of attending the Seattle conference in July, I really doubt I will get to attend. So I'm not going to meet this student, and won't get to explain why I thought so highly of their application. My argument on the file was that this is less of a reward for what the student has already done, and more an investment in this student's potential. I think scholar's orientation will change this student's life. So, for all you about-to-be-named Udall Scholars -- honor the investment we're making in you. We have high expectations, and even higher hopes.