November 02, 2011

Graham earns Lincoln Student Laureate honor

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Volunteerism is a way of life -- something “near and dear” to the heart of Anthony Graham, a senior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale from Mt. Vernon

But, while giving untold hours and energies helping others, he’s also avid about maintaining academic excellence, serving his country and being involved in causes that matter to him.  For this and more, Graham is a 2011 Student Laureate Award recipient from The Lincoln Academy of Illinois.

Graham, the son of Shannon and Tony Graham, will join a select group of honorees from throughout the state’s universities and colleges at a special awards ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Old State Capitol House of Representatives Chamber.  In honor of overall excellence in curricular and extracurricular activities, each will receive the Student Laureate Medallion, a certificate of achievement and a $500 monetary grant.  Plans also call for the award winners to attend a luncheon at the executive mansion with Gov. Pat Quinn as host. 

According to the Lincoln Academy of Illinois website, the award is given “to honor individuals whose contributions to the betterment of humanity have been accomplished in or on behalf of the State of Illinois.”

Graham said he was thrilled to learn of his selection as a Student Laureate.  He plans to use the grant to help cover costs of a study abroad trip to Bangladesh to study microcredit and social development. During the summer 2011 semester, he attended a study abroad program in nine Moroccan cities entitled “Morocco:  Contemporary Muslim Women.”

“Anthony is an outstanding student and well deserving of this honor.  His record of academic achievements as well as well as his record of service is impressive.  He is one of only nine students selected to AmeriCorps National Service at our campus this year.  He is an excellent ambassador for our University and a role model for his peers.  He utilizes the opportunities provided by our University to learn and develop as a citizen-scholar,” said Mythili Rundblad, coordinator of service learning and volunteerism.

With a major in anthropology and minors in sociology and army military science, Graham maintains a 3.4 GPA and has completed nearly 200 credit hours in the past five years. The first in his family to attend college and the oldest of five sons, Graham has contributed more than 1,000 hours volunteering on campus and in the community since coming to the University in addition to his efforts while a student previously at Rend Lake College.  He also completed more than 120 community service projects during high school. 

Nominated for the award by the College of Liberal Arts, Graham says he chose to come to SIU Carbondale for several reasons, including its academic programs, beautiful campus, proximity to his hometown and the numerous opportunities for volunteer work available.  He said it’s definitely been a good choice for him both scholastically and in every other way.

“The College of Liberal Arts has been a fantastic entity in my educational progress.  Whether it has been informing me of award applications, scholarships or just inviting me to speak to new students, COLA has challenged me to grow as an individual and help others learn from my experiences.  I wholeheartedly appreciate their support,” he said. 

Graham said that the University has also been helpful in facilitating his commitment to volunteerism.  Last year he mentored 104 first-year students, providing academic and social mentoring through University Housing’s Academic Peer Mentor program and he also now serves as a conversation partner, talking regularly with a graduate student in the mathematics department through the Center for English as a Second Language.  That relationship has helped the graduate student with English skills and also helped Graham better understand another culture and its customs, he said.

Graham said he is strongly committed to diversity, children and volunteering.  As a member of the Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps program, he works with children at Lewis School in Carbondale, mentoring them and helping in the classroom. 

“I work with fourth- and fifth-graders three days a week and love it!  It’s hard to realize how many issues youths face and the stressors involved in their lives until you are working one on one in the classroom with them.  Two of my passions are helping others and working with youth.  With AmeriCorps I have the privilege of doing both,” he said.

His goal is founding a camp for non-religious children within the next two years and he’s confident the things he’s learned and experienced will help him do just that. 

During his time at the University, Graham has been a campus blogger, posting online his thoughts and campus experiences, and he’s been active in numerous campus organizations and won a number of scholarships and awards.  He’s also a member of the Illinois Army National Guard and Army ROTC, volunteers at the Interfaith Center planning programs for students and community members and has actively worked to create an inclusive environment for non-religious students at the University.

After earning his bachelor’s degree next spring, Graham plans to pursue a master’s of divinity in either humanist studies or Unitarian Universalist ministry and then a doctorate in anthropology of religion.  He said his career goal is to become a professor at a four-year university and become one of, if not the first, secular humanist chaplains in the U.S. Army. 

In recommending Graham for the award, Rundblad wrote,” One of the qualities I admire about Anthony is his keen sense of integrity and values.  He always goes the extra mile, is dedicated and a hard worker.  Due to his academic record, leadership skills and passion for service, he is a role model for his peers and an ideal ambassador for our University and our state.”