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James Robinson, News Service (650) 723-5675; e-mail:

Two students win Marshall scholarships

Two Stanford students are headed to Oxford next year as recipients of prestigious Marshall Scholarships, which fund two years of academic work at British universities. The winners are Avery Willis, Class of 1999, and Matt Spence, Class of 2000.

Willis double majored in classics and English. The winner of the Eleanor Prosser Prize for Excellence in Dramatic Scholarship, she will pursue a master of philosophy degree in Greek languages and literature at Oxford, which has the world's largest concentration of classics scholars. She said Oxford is also one of the first places to foster the growth of performance studies of classical texts as a legitimate field of classics.

"As the millennium approaches, it is important to re-evaluate the role of live theater in our lives," she wrote in her application. "It is once again time for a rebirth of tragedy: the rebirth of philosophical queries into the nature of the human soul, the rebirth of the triumphant self, and the rebirth of physical human interaction."

Willis said she was ecstatic at the news, and noted that she is among the first group of Marshall "legacies." Her father won a Marshall in 1963 and was the first African American Marshall Scholar. He is a professor of history at Princeton.

"This is all a little overwhelming," Willis said. She is still on campus, working for the Office of Undergraduate Admission on a recruitment video designed to showcase the intellectual vitality of Stanford undergraduates. "The work is very exciting," she said, but it will be completed by the end of next summer in time for her to go to Oxford.

"She is blessed with what I can only call an academic-social gift, i.e., an ability to kindle in others the enthusiasm she feels for works of literature so that what is usually a solitary passion becomes, with her presence, an intellectual passion shared," wrote English Professor George Dekker in recommending Willis.

Willis has produced numerous plays, including two she wrote herself. She is also an avid polo player, and hopes to continue the sport at Oxford. She plans a career as a university professor and working theater artist.

Spence, a senior, said he was completely surprised when he received news of the scholarship. "The interview didn't go as well as I would have liked, and I left thinking, 'well, that was a good experience,'" he said.

Spence will graduate next spring with a bachelor's degree as well as a master's in international policy studies. He is a top-ranked debater and a 1999 recipient of a Truman Scholarship, which rewards students committed to a career in government or public interest and public service organizations.

Spence plans on pursuing a master of philosophy degree at Oxford in international relations, with an emphasis on Russia and Eastern Europe and the development of the rule of law in democratizing countries. He challenges the conventional wisdom that Russian democratization is doomed to failure because it lacks 300 years of Western liberal culture.

"It's much more the actions of individuals in Russia right now who can shape their future and design democratic institutions, and the choices they make," he said. "I really want to study how they can make better choices and what knowledge informs us how to make good policy in the area."

Coit Blacker, deputy director of the Institute for International Studies, called Spence "one extraordinary young man who has given back to Stanford at least as much as he's taken from it." He noted in particular Spence's founding of "Democratic Partners: The U.S.-Russia Student Leader Summit" that next April will bring together student leaders from the United States and the Russian Federation for a one-week leadership conference. "It comes out of Matt's febrile imagination and is symptomatic of his ability to follow through on an idea and make it real," Blacker said.

Spence is planning for a career in foreign policy.

John Pearson, director of the Bechtel International Center, said Stanford has consistently done well at winning Marshalls over the last 20 years.

The Marshall Scholarships were established by the British government in 1953 as an expression of thanks for aid given by the United States after World War II under the Marshall Plan.


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