Poet Rita Dove, the University of Virginia’s Commonwealth Professor of English and former U.S. poet laureate, was named a Presidential Scholar, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students, way back in 1970.
Sometimes what you did in high school comes back to you – even if it’s almost five decades later.
On Monday, Dove was one of three former Presidential Scholars to be honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. with the inaugural U.S. Presidential Scholars Awards for their accomplishments and contributions to a civil society and advancement of educational opportunities.
She is in good company. The other 2017 award winners are Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (a 1967 Presidential Scholar), president of Purdue University and former governor of Indiana, and Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (1970 Presidential Scholar) and President Obama’s unsuccessful 2016 nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The trio received the first Roosevelt “Rosey” Thompson Award, named for a 1980 Presidential Scholar from Arkansas. Thompson, who went to Yale University, died in a car accident just months before he was to head to Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship.
“We could not have chosen more worthy honorees for the inaugural Roosevelt ‘Rosey’ Thompson Awards,” said Brian T. Abrams, Presidential Scholars Foundation board president and chair. “President Daniels, Rita Dove and Chief Judge Garland have all, personally and professionally, contributed to society in a way that reflects Rosey’s ideals.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson established the annual Presidential Scholars program in 1964 to recognize students for outstanding scholarship, service, leadership and creativity. This year, 161 students – one male and one female student from each state (as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), along with an additional group of students, were selected through a rigorous process administered by the White House Commission on U.S. Presidential Scholars and the U.S. Department of Education.
At the awards dinner, 2011 Presidential Scholar alumna India Carney sang Dove’s poem “Rosa,” beautifully set to Carney’s original music. Afterward, the freshly minted 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars and others gathered in the Kennedy Center’s concert hall to hear performances by about two dozen alumni of the program.
The Presidential Scholars Foundation, in partnership with the Scholars Alumni Association, maintains an active alumni agenda. There are currently more than 7,000 Presidential Scholars making extraordinary advances in their fields.
In addition to this award, Dove also received the 2017 Harold Washington Literary Award in Chicago on June 8. The award “recognizes diverse and stimulating authors who address issues of contemporary life. The award’s goal is to present examples to the public of creative uses of the written word.” Presented by Chicago’s Near South Planning Board, the award is named for Washington, a former mayor of Chicago.
Dove, who served as U.S. poet laureate from 1993 to 1995 and poet laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006, joined UVA’s Creative Writing faculty in 1989. She has received the National Humanities Medal and National Medal of Arts from two presidents and is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
She has won several lifetime achievement awards, holds 25 honorary doctorates, has published more than 15 books and has been part of numerous musical collaborations and audiovisual productions. In 2015, Dove was awarded China’s 10th Poetry and People International Prize, becoming the first American and first English-speaking poet ever to receive the honor.