‘Powerful Vote of Confidence’
Twenty-five years ago I walked into my Pitzer adviser’s office (Ann Stromberg) and told her that I would not be able to continue attending Pitzer beyond my sophomore year, due to financial constraints. I had no idea at the time how sharing this sad news with my adviser would affect my life’s course. Ann told me she had just received information about a scholarship that could provide me with the additional resources I needed and encouraged me to apply. I can say unequivocally that I would not have applied for or received the Truman Scholarship without the support I received from Ann and the Pitzer community.
Not only was I deeply honored to be selected as the Truman Scholar from the state of Washington, I was thrilled to be able to stay at Pitzer. I chose Pitzer because of its more alternative nature and the opportunities it gives its students to create their educational path. Thanks to the Truman Scholarship and Pitzer’s flexibility, I was able to create my own external studies program at the National University in Mexico City, as well as spend my last semester in Sri Lanka. The political, social, and cultural education I received on my studies abroad deeply influenced my development and values as a young adult, as well as my career path.
When I decided to design my graduate studies program, combining coursework in East/West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, with a practicum in Expressive Arts through the Tamalpa Institute, culminating with a Masters of Science in Experiential Education (University of Minnesota), the Truman Foundation supported me all the way. I received a call one Saturday from Louis Blair, former Executive Secretary of the Truman Foundation. In his thick southern drawl he asked me, “Sheli, how’s graduate school?” After I described my studies, Mr. Blair exclaimed “We’ve got plenty of Harvard law school graduates. What you’re doing is innovative, and that’s leadership and that’s what this scholarship is all about!” Though I did not take the conventional path, the Truman Foundation echoed the mandate I was given by Pitzer: “go forth and do it your way. We believe in you.”
This vote of confidence is powerful, and has a strong ripple affect. Through following my heart, with much support from Pitzer and the Truman Foundation (and my family), I’ve been able to discover and share what I’m passionate about with others. I bring to the youth at the Daly City GED Center my love of outdoor education (rock climbing, hiking, ropes courses, sailing), creative expression (workshops on “Finding Your Voice and Your Dreams”, mural project), meditation (guided relaxation/visualization for test anxiety and stress reduction), and an appreciation for lifelong learning within a supportive community. Having learned, through personal experience, that there definitely is funding out there to continue one’s education, I applied for and received a grant to develop a program helping GED students transition into higher education. The majority of our graduates, most of them first-generation college students, are now going on to post-secondary education (with financial aid and scholarships)!
The graduate program I created through the Truman Scholarship helped me express myself in the world. Inspired by my practicum in expressive arts, I began writing songs, singing (after a 30-year hiatus!) and performing around the Bay area. More recently, I’ve been developing and performing a solo theatre piece about my experiences in Sri Lanka, which I’m happy to report has been very well received and supported. This is immensely satisfying and encouraging for me to continue following my dreams.
Looking back on how deeply my Pitzer experiences and the Truman Scholarship have affected my life, I feel very fortunate. I’m grateful to the Pitzer community and the Truman Foundation for their critical role in helping me understand, experientially, that opportunities to create one’s own unique pathway of education and public service are not only possible, but make for an incredibly enriching career.
Sheli (Zoe) Sameth ’83 resides in San Francisco.