A Living Memorial
While many United States Presidents are immortalized in structures of bricks and mortar or marble, the memory of our 33rd President continues in a living memorial: the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.
Dedicated to education and public service, President Truman often spoke about the importance of promoting young leaders, and envisioned a program for students that would encourage educated citizenship and political responsibility. Therefore, after his death in 1972, the President's friends and family found this memorial especially fitting.
John W. Snyder, Secretary of the Treasury during the President's Administration, and Stuart Symington, then Senator of Missouri, worked together to create the Foundation through an Act of Congress. Both lifelong friends of President Truman, Mr. Snyder and Mr. Symington also sought the approval of Margaret Truman Daniel, the President's daughter, who later said, “no memorial could be more appropriate.” Mrs. Daniel said her father “valued education most highly, and he would surely value education for public service more highly than any other kind.”
The bill passed in December 1974 and President Gerald Ford signed the Act of Congress on January 4, 1975. The Act authorized the Foundation to “award scholarships to persons who demonstrate outstanding potential for and who plan to pursue a career in public service,” and to conduct a nationwide competition to select Truman scholars. The Foundation awarded its first Scholarships in the 1977-78 academic year.
While the details have changed over time, the Scholarship remains proudly bound to the vision of its founding Board of Trustees. Each year hundreds of college juniors compete for roughly 60 awards. The rigorous selection process requires that good candidates have a strong record of public service, as well as a policy proposal that addresses a particular issue in society. Firmly rooted in President Truman's belief that education promotes the general welfare of our country, the Truman Scholarship remains committed to supporting and encouraging the future of public service leadership in the United States. Many of those chosen as scholars go on to serve in public office, as prosecutors and public defenders, as leaders of non-profit organizations, and as educators.
The Foundation continues to expand on a very lean budget, offering a range of opportunities for Scholars. Truman Scholars Leadership Week began in May 1989. Summer 1991 marked the first Summer Institute, a program that brings Truman Scholars to Washington, DC for the summer following their graduation from college. The Truman-Albright Fellows Program, started in 2004 and generously supported by the Truman Foundation's President, Madeleine Albright, permits Truman Scholars to remain employed in Washington, DC for a year or two between undergrad and graduate school and keeps them engaged in community-building and professional development programming. And, in 2013, the Foundation launches two new programs - Truman Democracy Fellows and Truman Governance Fellows - for Truman Scholars of all ages interested in running for office or serving in high level appointed office, respectively.
Remarkably, President Truman did not hold a college degree, though he certainly grasped a worldly education. He once said, “…Ignorance and its hand-maidens—prejudice, intolerance, suspicion of our fellow man—breed dictators and breed wars.” The self-awareness and sincerity required of Truman Scholars, along with their education that the Foundation supports, eases the edge of ignorance that pervades our tumultuous world. Perhaps what is most important about President Truman's living memorial is that it continues to grow each year.