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Senior John Blessing named UNG’s first Truman Scholar

April 11, 2019

University of North Georgia (UNG) senior John Blessing received a life-changing birthday present this year.

Less than a week before turning 23 years old, Blessing learned from UNG President Bonita Jacobs he was selected as a Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation Scholar, a nationally competitive award that provides up to $30,000 for undergraduate students to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in government or public service.

"I want to be the first to congratulate you on winning the Truman Scholarship," Jacobs said during a surprise reveal April 9 at UNG's Gainesville Campus. UNG is the only school in Georgia with a 2019 Truman Scholar.

Applause from other UNG officials erupted throughout the room as Blessing stood shocked.

"What? I actually won?" the Gainesville, Georgia, man asked.

Jacobs confirmed it was real with a nod and smile. Blessing grinned and hugged Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president of research and engagement at UNG, who helped him through the application process. Then he hugged Jacobs.

"We are so proud of you," Jacobs said. "You are our first Truman Scholar and have won one of the country’s most prestigious and competitive scholarships."

Each year, the Truman Foundation reviews more than 600 applications for the 55 to 65 scholarships awarded annually. This year, 840 candidates were nominated and 199 finalists were selected for interviews. Of those, 62, including Blessing, were selected.

Blessing is pursuing bachelor's degrees in political science and history with a focus in pre-law on UNG's Gainesville Campus. He said he is glad to be UNG's first Truman Scholar for two reasons. First, he can continue his dream of attending law school, and, second, it will showcase UNG's ability to help its students receive prestigious awards.

"It is such an opportunity for me and an opportunity for UNG to stand out as a university," Blessing said. "We can show other students this is the place to be."

Blessing, a first-generation student, credits UNG for his success. He said he felt apprehensive about his chances of getting into college.

"I didn't know if they would accept me, but I told them I'm going to work for this," Blessing said.

Since he enrolled, Blessing has helped found three student organizations, including United Students Organization, Philosophy Club and Guild of Tabletop Games. He is also a member of several others, such as Students for a Progressive Society, Politically Incorrect Club, College Democrats and Spectrum, the LGBTQ organization.

"Leadership is something that I use to ensure myself and others benefit in some way. I've done well and plan to do more," he said.

Blessing's involvement in student groups is only half of his resume. He works with Dr. Dwight Wilson and UNG student Lana Goitia on an undergraduate research project focused on the topic of constitutional democracies. He also has maintained a 4.0 GPA, allowing him to become eligible for the HOPE scholarship along with others.

Blessing also has racked up achievements during his tenure at UNG. He was a Newman Civic Fellow in 2015-16 and a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship semifinalist in 2016-17. In May 2018, Blessing was named to the Phi Theta Kappa All-Georgia Academic Team. In March 2019, he was selected as UNG's first-ever Rangel Scholar and will spend six weeks in Washington, D.C., where he will learn about the Department of State and take classes at Howard University through the Rangel Summer Enrichment Program.

His successes finally led him to be named a Truman Scholar.

"I originally talked about applying for the Truman my freshman year," Blessing said. "And now to have gotten this far, it is invaluable."

Since 2014, UNG students have earned more than $1.2 million in nationally competitive scholarship programs like the Truman Scholarship. Jennifer Hightower, who majored in psychology at UNG, was a Truman finalist in May 2015. While she did not win, Hightower is a doctoral student in counselor education on the Tennessee Fellowship for Graduate Excellence at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

Students interested in learning more about nationally competitive scholarships such as the Truman, should contact ncs@ung.edu for more information.

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