Claflin News

Emmanuel Pressley Named Claflin University’s First Truman Scholar

Hemingway Native is the Only 2014 Truman Scholar from S.C.

Claflin University junior politics and justice studies major Emmanuel Pressley has been on a journey since before he even matriculated to Claflin. He just didn’t know quite where it was leading him.

Pressley became Claflin’s first-ever Harry S. Truman Scholar on Wednesday – and the only one from South Carolina this year. The Truman is a highly competitive, merit-based award offered to U.S. college students who want to go to graduate school in preparation for a career in public service.

A celebrated prize in its own right, the Truman Scholarship (known also as a “Baby Rhodes”) is also considered a steppingstone to other prestigious awards, such as the Rhodes Scholarship and the Marshall Scholarship. Winners of Truman Scholarships in their junior year very often return in their senior year of college to compete for the Rhodes and/or Marshall Scholarships. Many win.

“The University congratulates Emmanuel on this high achievement,” Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale said. “His selection as a Truman Scholar is no small feat, and it also represents the caliber of students Claflin University is committed to recruit and retain. We are confident Emmanuel will live up to the expectations of a recipient of the Truman award.”

Pressley, who graduated as valedictorian of Hemmingway High School in 2011, is one of 59 new Truman Scholars – mostly college juniors – who were selected from among 655 candidates nominated by 293 colleges and universities. He joins the ranks of many U.S. leaders already established in the field of public service, individuals such as Dr. Susan E. Rice, U.S. national security adviser and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; George Stephanopoulos, former Clinton adviser and current ABC journalist; and Janet Napolitano, former U.S. head of national security and former governor of Arizona, among many others. 

“I’ve always been involved in the community,” the Hemingway, S.C., native said, adding that his love of helping others stems from watching his mother, Jennifer Pressley, do the same.

“She’s a nurse, and she’s always been really involved in our community, whether it’s helping people out at our church or volunteering with the fire department,” Pressley continued. “She’s always been involved, and I’ve had many years, while growing up, to look at that work ethic and look at how she was involved, and to just emulate that in my life.”

In addition to joining a network of like-minded public servants, Truman Scholars receive up to $30,000 for their graduate studies. Pressley’s goal is to obtain a master’s degree in public policy and then attend law school, with the hopes of one day becoming a civil rights attorney and opening a nonprofit organization, which he has named “Second Bridges,” that advocates for and assists nonviolent felons in rehabilitating and transitioning smoothly back into society.

“It feels absolutely amazing to be named a Truman Scholar,” Pressley said. “When I first matriculated to Claflin and Mrs. (Alice Carson) Tisdale told me about the National Merit Scholarships, with the Truman being one of the most prestigious, I immediately wanted to apply for it.

“For me, the Truman truly embodies what it means to leave Claflin better than I found it, and just blossoming into that visionary leader that Dr. Tisdale always talks about. It’s truly a blessing.”

Pressley, a member of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College, has been actively involved at Claflin since arriving on campus in fall 2011. He has served as a class senator since his freshman year, and has been appointed to the Honors Council all three years at Claflin. He has volunteered with the local Boys and Girls Club, Longwood Plantation Assisted Living Community and as a tutor on campus.

The summer after his freshman year, Pressley interned for the Family Court Division of the 16th Circuit Court in Jackson County, Mo., as part of the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars Program.

The next summer, he took part in the Ronald H. Brown Prep Program for College Students and interned at the Queens County Supreme Court in Queens, N.Y. While in New York, he also interned with Common Cause New York, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with the citizens of New York in holding their elected officials accountable for their actions.

Last fall, Pressley studied abroad in Florianopolis, Brazil, where he took part in the Culture, Portuguese Language, Business and Courses with Locals program at the Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina.

“Study abroad really shaped my perspective, when it comes to diversity and the importance of diversity in our workforce, in our schools,” he said.

Pressley said such experiences have been enriching and rewarding – and each has pushed him even closer to his goal of becoming a Truman Scholar, and, ultimately, his life goals.

“When I was in high school, my older brother got into trouble with the law, and just before I started college, he was getting released. It was very hard for him to rehabilitate or at least transition smoothly back into society,” he said. “That’s basically what my nonprofit is going to be about. I want it to combat felony disenfranchisement laws, but also advocate for community outreach in order to connect incarcerated individuals who are trying to rehabilitate back into society with employers, housing opportunities and governmental assistance so that they can become productive and contributing citizens.

“I have found that many of the rights that were fought for during the civil rights movement … are stripped when you become a felon because of the labeling and the stigma that comes with being a felon.”

This summer, Pressley will take part in the 2014 Truman Scholars Leadership Week at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., where this year’s scholars will receive their awards in a special ceremony at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., on May 25. He will also take part in an intense 10-week LSAT preparation program at the St. John's University School of Law in Queens, N.Y.

“I have an internship waiting for me after my senior year at the Washington Summer Institute, which is a branch of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation,” Pressley said.

Becoming Claflin’s first Truman Scholar is almost an opportunity that Pressley let pass him by.

He was well on his way to having his application completed when his laptop literally crashed – on the floor of his host family’s home in Brazil.

“I lost everything, and I was almost finished with the process of applying for the Truman Scholarship,” Pressley said. “So from October until I returned to Claflin in early January, I stopped everything … I stopped doing work towards it. I had lost all of my research, I had lost all of my essays – and we’re talking about months of revising, emailing back and forth … it’s not something that you can just do overnight.

“But when I got here, I kicked into gear. That’s when I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this.’ I started it, and I don’t like starting something and not finishing it. It’s not a very good trait.”

And the long process of working and writing and researching and waiting and preparing for the interview – it all paid off for Pressley.

“There were many nights when I wanted to give up,” he said. “But I’m glad I did it.

“I told Dr. Tisdale that the award – and don’t get me wrong, the $30,000 is great – but the reward, for me, was the experience, because in the process, they ask you questions that you don’t often times ask yourself. It’s truly the process of applying and interviewing for the Truman Scholarship that was so rewarding.”

Many people helped him along the way, Pressley said, adding that he would be remiss if he didn’t acknowledge their guidance and assistance in helping him on the road to becoming a Truman Scholar: President Tisdale, Mrs. Tisdale, Dr. Roosevelt Ratliff, Dr. Deborah L. Laufersweiler-Dwyer, Ms. Susan Lerner, Dr. Carlton Long, Dr. Millicent Brown, Dr. Caroletta Shuler Ivey, Dr. Leonard Pressley, Ms. Pricilla Anderson, Mr. Devin Randolph and Mr. Drexel Ball. Whether it was writing a recommendation letter or helping him prepare for his interview on April 2 at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga., each of them were a godsend in the process, he said.

“And I just wanted to say that my success is not about me,” Pressley continued. “I try to remind myself that my success is not about me. Essentially, it’s God acting within me to make me a vessel to help others. I’m thankful and highly appreciative for the people who have helped me throughout this process, but I give all glory and honor to God. My success is not because of my own ability – it’s because of God.”

To those coming behind him who also have aspirations to aim high and reach for what may seem impossible, Pressley has this advice.

“This is one of Dr. Tisdale’s five key points that I keep in mind all the time – you have to raise your self-expectancy, because the world is a big world, and you can do some amazing things,” he said. “So I would challenge all students – my peers, everyone and anyone who desires to attend Claflin or pursue their dreams or simply make a difference in their world … we all need to raise our self-expectancy and put forth the effort to maximize our potential.”

And be passionate about your goals, he added.

“You, me, anyone must be passionate, must know why they want to do it, and it must show,” he said. “You must have your passion, and know where it’s stemming from.

“I’m extremely excited about what the future holds.”

The Truman Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1975 as the federal memorial to the nation’s 33rd president. There have been 2,965 Truman Scholars since the first awards were made in 1977.



What is the Truman Scholarship?

The Truman is a highly competitive, merit-based award offered to U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals from Pacific Islands who want to go to graduate school in preparation for a career in public service. The scholarship offers:

  • Recognition of outstanding potential as a leader in public service;
  • Affirmation of values and ideals;
  • Enhanced access to highly competitive graduate institutions; 
  • Access to Scholar programs such as Truman Scholars Leadership Week, the Summer Institute and various Truman Fellows Programs;
  • Membership in a community of persons devoted to helping others and to improving the world; and,
  • Up to $30,000 to apply toward graduate study in the U.S. or abroad in a wide variety of fields.

Who are the Truman Scholars?

They are persons who have been recognized by the Truman Scholarship Foundation as future “change agents.” They have the passion, intellect, and leadership potential that in time should enable them to improve the ways that public entities – be they government agencies, nonprofit organizations, public and private educational institutions, or advocacy organizations – serve the public good.

Who is eligible to receive a Truman Scholarship?

U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals who are college or university students with junior-level academic standing and who wish to attend professional or graduate school to prepare for careers in government or the nonprofit and advocacy sectors where they will improve the ways these institutions work. Residents of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana must have senior-level standing.

Information from


Claflin University President, First Lady make $250,000 gift to the University

Mar 28, 2013

Claflin University President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale and First Lady Alice Carson Tisdale today announced their gift of $250,000 to the University.  The couple presented a check during an event held on the Claflin campus. The gift will fund an endowed professorship in the sciences and provide support for other academic programs and scholarships, including  athletics.

“This establishment of the endowed professorship represents our personal and sacrificial commitment for something that is very near and dear to our hearts,” said Dr. Tisdale, a 1965 graduate and the University’s eighth president appointed in 1994.

Dr. and Mrs. Tisdale made their announcement and presentation at the Claflin University Molecular Science Research Center, designated a core research facility by the South Carolina Research Authority.  This was a fitting backdrop for the gift because $150,000 of the funds will endow a professorship in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.   Establishing such an endowment ensures the perpetual recruitment and retention of top faculty, teachers, scholars and mentors in the sciences.  The Tisdales believe this will ultimately increase the numbers of young African Americans choosing and excelling in careers in STEM.

“The overall purpose of establishing the Endowed Professorship in STEM is to help bolster the success of African-Americans in the STEM fields,” said Dr. Tisdale.  “It has been documented over and over again that African-Americans are severely underrepresented in the STEM disciplines,” he said.

According to recent statistics by the National Center for Education, the numbers of African Americans earning degrees in the STEM disciplines have fallen in the last decades.  The Center found that African-Americans now receive about seven percent of STEM bachelor’s degrees (a one percent drop); four percent of master’s degrees and only two percent of doctorate degrees.  These staggering numbers, along with the Tisdales’ passion for education, are key factors driving their move to establish the endowed professorship.

The Tisdales’ gift will also support two endowed scholarships, one for the Alice Carson Tisdale Endowed Scholarship in Education, and the other for the Henry N. Tisdale Endowed Scholarship in Mathematics.  Moreover, the gift provides scholarship support for students in other disciplines and student athletes.

“At heart, we are both career educators.  We’ve committed our lives to helping students achieve success,” said Mrs. Tisdale, director of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College. 

Students representing the department of education and the STEM fields of study attended today’s event.  They were recognized for their accomplishments as they work toward earning degrees in these very critical fields.

“These young people are the reason why we are here.  They represent the caliber of student that will benefit from this support,” said Mrs. Tisdale.  “These are our visionary leaders of tomorrow - future scholars, teachers, scientists, and artists – on the brink of greatness, who we hope will help to solve some of the great challenges of our world in both the sciences and education,” she said.

The first lady’s remarks resonated with Breanna James, a sophomore majoring in early childhood education, and Darien Woods, who wants to teach social studies and English.
“After graduation I am going to graduate school for a master’s degree in speech pathology and later start my own private practice for children with speech disorders and special needs,” said James.

Woods has similar ambitions.

“I plan to attend graduate school, attain a doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction.  I want to teach social studies and English at the start of my career.  Later, I plan to teach music after studying at Juilliard,” Woods said.

Dr. and Mrs. Tisdale’s gift resolutely supports a major cornerstone of the Campaign for Claflin University, the institution’s historic $96.4 million capital campaign designated in part to building the institution’s endowment. 

Accepting the gift, capital campaign general chair James Bennett said the Tisdales are demonstrating their commitment to Claflin’s mission.

“Now the world is seeing what we’ve always known here at Claflin, and that is, Dr. and Mrs. Tisdale are committed to making this University the best in the world,” said Bennett.  “When I look at the inner family contributions to this campaign it’s phenomenal.  At no time have we had to ask for something we aren’t doing for ourselves.  Because of you, we are confident that we reach the finish line.”

Claflin Board of Trustees chair Paul V. Fant said the Tisdale gift will inspire others to invest in Claflin’s legacy of excellence in education.

“I thank Dr. and Mrs. Tisdale for this very generous gift.  With it, we continue to focus on attracting and retaining the best and the brightest faculty, staff, and students,” Fant said.

Claflin University was established in 1869.  It is a national liberal arts institution quickly gaining prominence in the arena of top undergraduate research and teaching institutions in the nation.  Claflin enrolls approximately 2,000 students from 27 states and 17 countries.  Claflin continues to gain national recognition for its academic programs and faculty achievements.  Among them, recognized Claflin among the top 12% of colleges and universities in the nation, while the U.S. News & World Report ranked Claflin nationally among institutions of higher learning. Claflin also boasts four faculty named as South Carolina Governor’s Professors of the Year and two finalists for the same award.


About the Donors

Dr. Henry N. Tisdale

A native of Kingstree, South Carolina and a 1965 magna cum laude graduate of Claflin University, Dr. Tisdale returned to his alma mater as its eighth president in 1994.

During his 19 years as president, Dr. Tisdale’s reputation for accomplishment, generating momentum, demonstrating commitment and his strategic approach to advancing Claflin have established him as a prominent influence in higher education. 

Under his leadership, Claflin continues to be recognized among the top liberal arts institutions in the nation.  Dr. Tisdale graduated magna cum laude from Claflin University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics (1965).  He earned a Master of Education degree in Mathematics from Temple University (1967), then a Master of Arts degree in Mathematics from Dartmouth College (1975). He was the first African American to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Mathematics from Dartmouth College (1978).  He received Honorary Doctorate degrees from South Carolina State University (2004) and Hofstra University (2009).

Dr. Tisdale is a member of the American Council on Education Commission on Effective Leadership, UNCF Special Programs Board of Directors, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges Council of Presidents, the HBCU-ETS Steering Committee and a member of Governor Nikki Haley’s Transition Team. He is a member of the Claflin University National Alumni Association, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the Orangeburg Rotary Club and Trinity United Methodist Church.

Mrs. Alice Carson Tisdale

Alice Carson Tisdale hails from Dover, Delaware. 

Mrs. Tisdale received the Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Elizabeth City State University, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and earned a Master of Education degree in reading diagnosis and remediation from Salisbury State University, Salisbury, Maryland. 

     Mrs. Tisdale has written and published:  An Agenda for Success:  Restructuring Middle Level Education in the State of Delaware   and   APEX:  Reaching the Top!  An Alternative Program for Middle Level Education. 


She received the District Teacher of the Year award while teaching in the Smyrna School District, Smyrna, Delaware where she taught for more than 20 years.  In 1991, she received the State Chamber of Commerce “Superstars! In Education Award” from the State of Delaware for innovative teaching strategies and the “NAACP Educator of the Year Award” from the Dover, Delaware, Central Branch of the NAACP.  In 2004, she was awarded the “Outstanding Director of the Year” by The National Association of African American Honors Programs.  Additional awards include the 2011 “Community Service Award” from the Delta Zeta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Mrs. Tisdale currently serves many organizations, among these: Appointment by Governor Nikki Haley to the Governor’s Mansion and Lace House Commission; National Secretary/Treasurer of the National Association of African American Honors Programs; and Board Chair of the Orangeburg County Community of Character.  She is a member and Co-Founder/Director of the “Praise Kids” children’s Christian theater at Trinity United Methodist Church, Orangeburg, SC; member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Beta Zeta Omega Chapter; and The Links, Incorporated, Orangeburg Chapter. 

Dr. and Mrs. Tisdale are the proud parents of two grown children, Danica C. Tisdale Fisher, PhD, of Claremont, California and Brandon Keith Tisdale who resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

Claflin Photos