Leslie Leavoy, an LSU junior from DeRidder, La., recently was selected as a finalist for the 2012 Harry S. Truman Scholarship out of more than 500 applicants in the region. (Credit: Baileigh Rebowe)
Leslie Leavoy, an LSU junior from DeRidder, La., recently was selected as a finalist for the 2012 Harry S. Truman Scholarship out of more than 500 applicants in the region. (Credit: Baileigh Rebowe)

By Baileigh Rebowe | LSU Student

Leslie Leavoy, a Louisiana State University junior from DeRidder, La., recently gained national recognition for being in the elite inner circle of college students as a finalist for the 2012 Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

The Truman scholarship was established by Congress in 1977 to recognize college juniors with exceptional leadership potential who are seeking careers in government, the nonprofit or advocacy sectors, education or other public service.

The scholarship is to meant to provide financial support for graduate study.

Finalists were chosen nationally by 16 independent selection panels. Criteria focuses on a student's academic record, leadership accomplishments and the likelihood of becoming public service leaders.

Leavoy, a political communication major, was one of the 191 finalists chosen from more than 550 candidates throughout the nation. She became the 15th LSU finalist. Only five LSU students have been named Truman Scholars in the school's history.

"Leslie was an outstanding representative of LSU; she lives the Truman objective for young people to be "change agents" in their communities," said Truman adviser Drew Arms of the LSU Honors College.

Although ultimately not selected for the scholarship, being a finalist remains a major accomplishment, to her mind.

"It was cool that someone recognized something in me that said 'you are going to do something good in the future.' It encouraged me that I was doing more than just going through the motions of getting a degree, I actually have real ideas and my ideas are worth listening to."

She says being from a small town helped her realize her potential to make a difference. "DeRidder is a great place to raise a family and stay rooted to your community. I had a close-knit group of friends, as well as a huge family, all in one town."

The downside to living in a rural town in the Deep South, says the 21-year-old daughter of a trial judge mother and a trial attorney father, is that "sometimes traditional values and closed-mindedness hinder someone from achieving things. That motivated me to prove people wrong and encourage them to open their minds to how the world has changed.

"My family and friends helped me realize that there is a much bigger world outside of DeRidder, and I am forever indebted to them."

Leavoy started the Truman Scholarship application process last December. It was more extensive and detailed than she imagined. An application requires, besides basic information about the individual, a list of activities and service organizations, seven essay questions, three letters of recommendation and a 500-word policy proposal addressing a societal problem.

Leavoy's policy proposal focused on her passion, politics. The junior recently volunteered at a political summit in New Orleans where she helped increase voter participation and civic engagement for college students and young people, something she wants to do in the future.

"Young people are voting more, but still not enough college students are involved and active in the political process," said Leavoy. "I want to show them it doesn't matter who you vote for, find a candidate to match your beliefs and participate."

Leavoy wants to get in her masters degree in government at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. She says she wants to become "more hands on" in politics and work for a bipartisan organization such as "Rock the Vote." Down the road, she sees herself working with a candidate on political strategy.

She is currently a member of Delta Gamma Sorority, LSU National Society for Collegiate Scholars, Phi Theta Sigma Honor Society, Alpha Lands Delta Honor Society and Rho Lambda Honor Society.

Leavoy recently was appointed as the director of external affairs for the LSU student government which she ways furthers her opportunities to promote civic engagement and involvement.

"Even though I have pushed myself to excel academically, I still make time to have fun, I'm not a total nerd.''