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Honoring Public Service

June 16, 2003

by Louis Blair

Louis Blair, executive secretary of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, has devoted his entire professional career to public service. In March, he visited campus to applaud Lewis & Clark for encouraging students along that path and to present the College with a Harry S. Truman Scholarship Honors Institution award. Since 1990, seven Lewis & Clark students have garnered foundation scholarships to help fund their graduate studies (see right). Six of them returned to hear Blair deliver these remarks at the College’s annual scholarship recognition luncheon.


Truman scholars tend to be folks full of “passion, piss, and vinegar.” While there has been no special attempt to select people who will have high profiles, nonetheless some have gained prominence. These include political pundit George Stephanopoulos, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, New Yorker columnist Jeffrey Toobin, and Lewis & Clark’s own associate Professor of Political Science Robert Eisinger.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship was set up in 1977 as the federal memorial to our 33rd president. It provides $30,000 scholarships and special recognition to college students in their junior year who want to attend graduate school or professional school to become agents of change. These inspiring young people seek to improve the ways governments and other public institutions promote the public good, serve the disadvantaged, protect resources and the environment, and enhance freedom. Every year, 75 to 80 college students are selected as Truman scholars from among 600 nominees representing 300 or more colleges and universities.

Recently, the foundation’s trustees established an award to recognize colleges for outstanding success in the Truman competition. Students rarely prevail on their own in this highly contested scholarship competition; they win because they have partnered with a faculty/staff mentor who helps the student grow through the process.

We are here to honor Lewis & Clark College for its outstanding record of seven Truman scholars. Previous recipients of the award include: Swarthmore College, Claremont-McKenna College, Occidental College, Harvard University, Stanford University, and the U.S. Military Academy. The other recipients in 2002-03 are Wake Forest University, University of Arkansas, and Deep Springs College.

For what it is worth, Amherst College, Whitman College, Pomona College, Williams College, and the University of Oregon have not received this award.

I would characterize the Lewis & Clark Truman scholars as:

  • Positive contrarians who understand that there are alternative ways to improve the environment, develop cities and urban spaces, help the less fortunate while still working with people in “the system”;
  • Grounded in their values and in a strong academic education;
  • Mindful of the fact that they don’t have all the answers and respectful of the value of working in the field before entering graduate school; and
  • Personally appealing. 

Over the past 13 years, I have been on 203 American college and university campuses—often visiting more than once. I’ve been everywhere from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to San Diego State University to the University of Maine—and lots of places in between. I have met with literally hundreds of administrators and thousands of students.

At Lewis & Clark, I see:

  • A seriousness and sense of purpose.
  • The promulgation of a set of values for the public good.
  • Caring faculty whose involvement in research does not work to the detriment of teaching.
  • An in-touch administration.
  • Students who are refreshingly modest and relatively low key, devoted to being change agents.

To the donors and trustees of donor organizations represented here today I say: Your generosity is well invested. I hope that you will continue to support Lewis & Clark, especially during difficult economic times when young people need more help than usual to attend college.

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