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Murray Scholars: Nation's best choose W&M

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Audio: Cohen—Choosing William and Mary / Walch—Better than MIT or Yale / Walch—An odd way to assess / Clements—Choosing William and Mary

The five Murray Scholars who are members of the William and Mary Class of 2011 bring impeccable academic credentials that jealously were sought by such notable institutions as Princeton, Yale, Pennsyvlania and M.I.T.

Caitlin Clements, from the Casady School in Oklahoma, dazzled the scholarship selection committee with her bi-lingual—French and German—film spinning a romantic story set in France during World War II. Isabelle Cohen, from the Branson School in California, spoke about frontline activism on behalf of immigrants whom she felt were harassed in her home community. The others—George “Bert” Cortina from Poquoson, Va., Michelle Munyikwa from Zimbabwe, and Olivia Walch from Alexandria, Va.—were equally engaging as evidenced by their selection for one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships in the nation.

Walch, whose final decision included M.I.T. and Yale, explained the reason that she decided to come to Williamsburg. “William and Mary won out not just because of the scholarship offer but due to the people at the College,” she said. “I talked to them. They seemed to me, in some respects, more well-rounded. I enjoyed their presence, as well as the whole vibe I got from campus.”

Clements, who was considering Princeton and the University of Southern California’s film school, said that she chose William and Mary even before the Murray scholarship was offered. “I love film, but had I gone to U.S.C., that would have dominated my existence,” she said. “That’s why I got so excited when looking at the courses at William and Mary. I knew I could keep my interest in film alive but not pigeonhole my future.”

As with all incoming students, the Murray Scholars will arrive on campus with a mixture of excitement and apprehension—excitement at the prospect of joining an academic institution where curiosity and creativity are encouraged; apprehension about fitting in. Aware that the College has invested heavily in bringing them to campus, they feel an added responsibility to perform well. Likewise, they expect the College to deliver on its promises to them.

Cortina, who at first was reluctant to attend William and Mary because it was so close to his home on the Peninsula, said it was the sense of community that he discovered on campus that convinced him to accept the scholarship. “I expect William and Mary to be the college that I’ve come to know during my visits, which is a close-knit community that strongly supports its students in their academic endeavors but allows them to find their passion and chart their own course,” he said.

For Munyikwa, excitement and fear co-mingled: “I’m most excited about living in a new place, and yet that is also my greatest fear,” she said. She added, “While every student who comes to William and Mary is talented, we each have different talents and life experiences that contribute to form a varied and interesting community. I hope to add to that.”

Walch’s immediate concern involved getting lost. “When I visited in May, I managed to wander off campus and get lost in the woods for 45 minutes while trying to reach Colonial Williamsburg,” she said. “Dan Cristol (director of the Murray Scholarship program) had to come pick me up. I’m still in shock that I was even considered for the scholarship after that.”

Cohen, who made her decision to attend William and Mary after a follow-up visit to the campus, said, “It was that second visit that really convinced me. Mostly it was the students’ attitude toward academics in the classes that I visited. They were having fun, but their level of focus toward academics was exciting.”

Given that fact alone, Cohen said that she is confident that all of the Murray Scholars will fit right in.