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Salma Abdelrahman ’20 was sitting in a Phillips Brooks House Association meeting when she found out she was one of 62 students across the country named 2019 Truman Scholars, a graduate scholarship for college students committed to public service.
The award, established by Congress in 1975, offers up to $30,000 to recipients to pursue work in public service upon graduation. This year, candidates were evaluated based on their “academic success and leadership accomplishments, as well as their likelihood of becoming public service leaders,” according to the Truman Foundation press release.
Abdelrahman, an African and African American Studies concentrator, said that during the meeting at PBHA, where she serves as vice president, a fellowships tutor sent her a text message conveying the good news.
“The text was just like, ‘YOU GOT IT!’ in all caps, and I was like ‘What? Who is this?’” she said. “Then I realized what she was talking about and it was kind of crazy. I got forwarded the [Truman Foundation] email sent to [University] President [Lawrence S.] Bacow as well.”
Abdelrahman said she was first motivated to apply to the Truman Scholarship when she found out about the opportunity through her friend Nicholas P. Whittaker ’19, who received the honor last year.
Abdelrahman said much of her time on campus has been spent organizing around prison abolition, including working with the Harvard Organization for Prison Education and Advocacy and the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign. HPDC has recently garnered attention for its efforts to persuade Bacow to divest the University’s nearly $40 billion endowment from companies with ties to the prison industry.
“The folks at the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign have 100 percent made me a better organizer and a better person,” Abdelrahman said. “The service work that I do is grounded in the belief of a world in which prisons don’t need to exist.”
She also cited a class on mass incarceration that she took with History and African and African American Studies Associate Professor Elizabeth K. Hinton that has inspired both her studies and her advocacy. Hinton also recommended Abdelrahman for the scholarship.
“Professor Hinton marries academia and service so clearly that I just draw a lot of inspiration for her in what I do outside the classroom,” Abdelrahman said.
Abdelrahman said she will use the coming year to decide how she plans to make use of the scholarship funding.
“Before I decide, I am definitely going to take time to do organizing work and be on the ground for a little bit,” she said. “And then I’ll decide what skills I need based on what the work looks like and what I feel is most necessary to continue furthering the project of social justice.”
Abdelrahman said she is interested in pursuing graduate studies in law or public policy, but that she is keeping her options open for the time being and focusing on showing her gratitude for the award through service.
“In terms of getting the honor, this award is not just mine,” she said. “The communities that build me up are the people who deserve this award just as much as I do.”
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