Olivia Smith, a junior at Seattle University, knows what it is like for hard work to pay off. She was recently awarded the Truman Scholarship, one of the most prestigious awards in the United States. Her work with numerous organizations and volunteering for countless causes have earned her the great accolade, but this victory is by no means the ultimate goal of her years of community service.
Last month, Smith received the news that she was one of the 58 undergraduate students out of over 600 applicants in the United States to win the prestigious Truman Scholarship, which awards recipients $30,000 to go toward graduate school. She is a political science and Spanish double major and a Sullivan Scholar. Smith also spends her time volunteering for many programs, mostly in the Seattle Community.
When she first came to Seattle U, she volunteered through the Center for Service doing tax intake at Yesler Terrace Community Center. She also ran a free summer meals camp at Garfield Community Center where she worked hands on to provide meals for children and worked directly with the community.
When Bridget Hiedemann, the Truman Scholar Faculty Representative for Seattle U, heard the news that Smith had won, she was thrilled.
“I was excited, but not surprised,” Hiedmann said. “I have learned that you can’t really count on it, but I wasn’t surprised.”
Hiedemann believes that part of what makes Smith stand out from the other Truman candidates is that she can always answer any question with confidence and ease. With intensive interviews for finalists, this is a helpful characteristic to have.
“I think rowing and then making a joke at the beginning helped me stand out a lot,” she said.
Brittany Villars, Smith’s long-time friend from high school, has much to say about Smith’s radiant personality.
“She can brighten a whole room. She loves to laugh and smile and people can’t help but be drawn to her,” Villars said.
Apparently, Smith has not always been so outgoing. When she was young, she was very shy. But her father is a pastor and she thinks that her father’s personality must have rubbed off on her and made her grow into the outgoing person she is today.
Not only is Smith a consistent and driven full-time student deeply involved in public service, she is also a D1 athlete.
Smith has been rowing for Seattle U’s women’s team since her freshmen year in college, and she is continuing to grow as an athlete.
“She’s learned and is continuing to learn how to push the limits on what she can do,” said Smith’s rowing coach, Jennifer Park.
Her persistence and continuous desire to improve are common traits that weave through all of Smith’s activities. She also leads by example and sets the bar high on the team, according to her coach.
Smith also sets the bar high for herself. She hopes to use the scholarship to attend law school in Chicago, and then eventually become a prosecuting attorney.
If that vision materializes, Smith hopes to implement more restorative methods when dealing with people who commit crimes. She believes that a prosecuting attorney’s job is to represent the entire public, including the person they are putting in jail. She explained that instead of giving the most punitive method, she wants to focus on rehabilitation and integrating ex-cons back into society.
Along with her ambitions to become a prosecuting attorney, Smith is also interested in focusing on empowering people of color.
Smith ties her intentions with her current involvement with the community when she said, “I think restoring society is the best way to offer that public service mentality.”
With tremendous goals ahead of her, impressive accomplishments behind her, and numerous commitments and activities in between, many wonder how she juggles it all.
“If you are doing what you love, it doesn’t really matter,” she said.