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Will Morris to receive 2011 Monroe Prize

  • Will Morris '11
    Will Morris '11  The William & Mary senior will receive this year's Monroe Prize at Charter Day.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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The first semester of Will Morris’s senior year at William & Mary began with the student receiving an award for his service work, which has touched numerous middle school students in the Williamsburg area over the past four years. Now, the start of a new semester brings yet another acknowledgement of Morris’s dedication to mentoring and his passion for bridging the achievement gap.

Morris, a New Kent, Va., native majoring in psychology and minoring in community studies, will receive this year’s Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership at the College’s annual Charter Day ceremony, to be held at 4 p.m. Feb. 4 in William & Mary Hall.

The Monroe Prize is presented annually to a William & Mary student who “demonstrates sustained leadership of an unusual quality – leadership combined with initiative, character, and an unfailing commitment to leveraging the assets of the William and Mary community to address the needs of our society.”

“I don’t do service for the awards, but it’s nice to get acknowledged and to use that as a platform to leverage more resources or do what I need to do in the school system,” Morris said.

Morris’s interest in service began during his freshman year at the College when he began volunteering with Project Phoenix, an organization that provides tutoring and mentoring for students at Berkeley Middle School.

Morris said his service activities greatly increased when he became a brother in the Kappa Pi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.

“It really gave me the resources and the clout and the vehicle to take it to the next level and be creative with my projects and have that support behind me as far as my initiatives and what I wanted to do,” said Morris, who now serves as the chapter’s president.

The fraternity, which received a volunteerism and community service award from the governor in 2010, introduced Morris to two more local mentoring programs: Rites of Passage at Toano Middle School and Distinguished Gentlemen at Berkeley Middle School. After acting as a mentor and tutor with these organizations for about a year, Morris became the campus liaison for the groups during his junior year.

“I went from being a participant to more organizing and logistics and getting everyone together on a Saturday morning who wanted to volunteer and help,” he said.

Though in a few short months he will be graduating from William & Mary, Morris’s efforts will not end with Commencement. His service was always about more than a way to pass the time at the College.

“For me, being a minority student and going through high school and excelling there and going to college, I didn’t really see a lot of my peers coming with me,” he said.  “That really is the root, the spark of my interest in education and mentoring because really I see that as the biggest civil rights and racial equality issue of our time, the achievement gap.”

Morris noted that only 50 percent of African-American students graduate from high school. The 50 percent who don’t graduate make significantly less than those who do and often face struggles in areas such as poverty, health care and crime, he said.

If given the opportunity to make remarks at the Charter Day ceremony, Morris said he’ll use the moment to speak to the audience about the achievement gap and what everyone can do, both personally and civically, to help change the current situation.

“It’s so easy for it to slip out of the limelight and be swept under the rug because most of the time, the people who are affected most by the gaps are the people who are least represented and advocated for,” he said.

Morris hopes to help remedy that by continuing to act as an advocate for those who are underrepresented. He plans on attending graduate school to study education policy, and, eventually, he hopes to address the problem of the achievement gap on a systemic level.

“That’s what I hope to do long-term, advocate for students across the country and change the system, making it better so we can support these students,” he said.