Poetry in Motion

Timothy B. Clark tclark@govexec.com

Could it be true that the leader of 4,000 cadets at the Air Force Academy, an academic star and glider pilot whose ambitions include leading a space shuttle mission and reforming the nation's approach to funding scientific research, might also be a poet at heart? The members of the committee charged with choosing this year's Truman Scholarship winners certainly wanted to know, as we weighed Timothy J. Spaulding's application. After all, our group might live in infamy if we passed up a chance to recognize a latter-day Clausewitz (admittedly better known for "On War" than for his love poems)-a warrior who might rise above military technobabble in addressing a skeptical public on the role of government. That Spaulding might be such a man was suggested to us by a letter of recommendation to the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, a federal agency that gives $30,000 scholarships to about 80 college juniors each year. The grants are used finance graduate education directed at furthering careers in public service.

In Spaulding's dormitory room, the letter said, is a bookshelf whose contents reflect his eclectic interests: quantum electrodynamics, the Persian Gulf War, E.E. Cummings' poetry, the origins of the universe, amateur radio, Shakespeare's sonnets, the life of Winston Churchill and more. Reading a biography of Churchill is fine, one committee member said, but what about the British leader's own books? Sure, replied Spaulding, citing one Churchillian tome he was reading and another he'd read recently. Then the real killer question came from yours truly: Which Shakespeare sonnet would Spaulding choose to win a lady's heart, and what other poet might be useful to the same end? Well, said he, just last night, I was reading a Shakespearean sonnet to my girlfriend on the phone-not the perfect choice, he added, quoting two lines as evidence and citing another romantic poet who might have been a better pick.

Home run. Hit it out of the park. Of course, he should be a Truman Scholar, or so this committee member thought. Others agreed, for reasons ranging beyond Shakespeare, such as intellectual depth, demonstrated leadership ability and commitment to public service.

This last criterion is the real point of the scholarship program. Foundation executive secretary Louis Blair and others who are fortunate to participate in selecting scholars get fresh evidence each year that altruism and concern for the less fortunate in our society is alive and well among the nation's youth. We gave scholarships to Monique Portusach-Cepeda and Mary Grace Mendoza-Lapid, both from Guam and both wanting nothing more than to help their island's under-educated and poverty-plagued citizens. We chose Andrew Oldham, who began a successful program to fight violence against women at the University of Virginia, and Jennifer Lambert, who saw deprivation up close as she was growing up and now wants to move from Furman University into a career of advocacy for low-income and minority citizens. And we chose David Z. Hudson, who, like Spaulding, has distinguished himself in training for military service-at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Some may not know their sonnets, but in this group of aspiring public servants, we certainly sensed what Malvolio described in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em."

Tim sig2 5/3/96
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