Forty George Marshall scholars visited their namesake’s home in Leesburg Tuesday afternoon, ahead of beginning their studies in the United Kingdom.
The program launched in 1953, established by the British government as a living gift to the U.S in recognition of the generosity of then-Secretary of State Gen. George C. Marshall and the Marshall Plan in the wake of World War II. The first class of 12 scholars was recognized a year later, and six decades later, more than 1,900 Marshall Scholars have been sent to the U.K. Those selected for the elite scholar program apply to study at a U.K.-based university of their choosing to complete a master’s degree or even begin work towards a doctorate. Studies chosen by the scholars range widely from the sciences to economics to theater.
Past scholars have included two sitting Supreme Court justices—Stephen Breyer and Neil Gorsuch—New York Times writer Thomas Friedman, four Pulitzer Prize winners, a Nobel Laureate, and a member of Congress.
This year’s class of 40 scholars spent their afternoon before their evening embarkation to Great Britain enjoying a buffet lunch and tour of the George C. Marshall International Center property. Tuesday was the first occasion in many years that the scholars visited the Leesburg property, but it’s a tradition the Marshall board hopes to reprise annually, according to board member Les Janka.
“These people are the living legacy of Marshall. They’re the ones carrying it forward,” he said.
This year’s scholars hail from across the country and are studying a bevy of subjects. Devika Ranjan, a recent graduate of Georgetown University from Massachusetts, will be studying sociology with a focus on migration and the technology of identity in her first year at Cambridge University. Her second year she will switch to theater. She will be joined at Cambridge by several other scholars, all scientists.
“It’s amazing and so exciting,” to be selected as scholar, she said, as well as to be surrounded by fellow scholars who are “so passionate about whatever they do.”
The group of scholars also includes two University of Virginia alumni, Abraham Axler of New York and William Henagan of Georgia. Henagan will be pursuing a second master’s degree, this time in economic development policy, at London’s University College, as well as begin work towards a Ph.D. Axler will pursue a master’s in politics and communication in social policy at the London School of Economics.
Henagan said receiving the scholarship is “an enormous opportunity” and expressed his gratitude towards the British government for continuing the program. Scholars selected for the program receive free tuition and room and board, a cost that hovers around $37,000 for the two- to three-year program, Joshua Stanton, head of youth engagement for the British Embassy in Washington, said.
“I feel an intense obligation to the public good, to use the work [during the scholar program] for the benefit of many,” Axler said.
The Marshall Scholars program has become one of the most elite and competitive in the U.S. There were 930 applicants nationwide for the scholars program this year, according to Stanton, and the class of 40 represents an acceptance rate around 4 percent. Each of the eight British consulates across the country has a selection committee—mainly composed of former Marshall Scholars—who help to select that year’s class of scholars.