VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) – President Harry S. Truman’s time in office was a few generations ago, but a current South Dakota college student is carrying on his legacy. The University of South Dakota recently announced Josh Sorbe as a 2019 Truman Scholar. Sorbe is the sole student chosen from South Dakota this year.
The Truman Scholarship was established in 1975 as the federal memorial to President Truman. It’s a highly competitive award, and viewed as one of the premier graduate fellowships in the United States for those pursuing careers in public service.
First impressions are important. Surrounded by friends at table in USD’s library, you could say 21-year-old Sorbe knows this to be true.
“Usually the first thing I say is I’m Josh. I’m a junior at USD,” Sorbe said.
There’s a lot more to say about Sorbe. He’s president of USD’s Student Government Association, and he dove right into being a star athlete on the swim team.
“Well, I was terrible at every other sport, so swimming was kind of trying to find a role,” Sorbe, who has been swimming since age ten, said.
As if that weren’t enough, he has found out about a new role that sets the stage for the rest of his life. Recently, he thought he was just having a meeting with Sarah Hirsch Wittmuss, an adjunct faculty member for USD. He was wrong.
“(We were) lying to Josh over the weekend, because several of us knew and couldn’t tell him and it was fun. It was a great reveal,” Hirsch Wittmuss said.
A video captured the moment Sorbe found out. Out of 840 candidates, only 62 college juniors can call themselves a Truman Scholar this year. The scholarship is $30,000. After his surprise, Sorbe Facetimed his mom to tell her he’s one of them.
“It’s an incredible honor. It’s the most prestigious scholarship for those looking to go into public service and public service was something I’ve known I’ve wanted to do my whole life and to have that reassurance, saying you’re on the right path, was very honorable,” Sorbe said.
Sorbe’s success is having a big effect on everyone from his friends to his younger brother.
“Kind of being from South Dakota, we get kind of, ‘Oh, you’re just from South Dakota. You really can’t do it. You don’t have all those experiences,’ but really, if he can do it, why can’t someone else from South Dakota do it?” Christian Fossum, friend/USD student, said.
“It definitely pushes me to be a lot better and push myself to do things that I normally wouldn’t do, but he kind of carves a path for me, so I sort of have footsteps to follow,” Kyle Sorbe, brother/USD student, said. “It doesn’t surprise me. Josh has always been a hard worker.”
Attention and accolades aren’t why Sorbe works so hard.
“Josh has just been the next in the line of those who really have an interest and have the capacity to make some big changes,” Hirsch Wittmuss said.
Sorbe begins his senior year at USD in the fall and says he wants to get his master’s outside of South Dakota. The political science and economics major wants to make those changes in the classroom. After he’s done with his education, he has his sights on shaping education policy and says he eventually wants to teach in South Dakota.
“Middle school is a very formative time of your life and you find your identity and kids can be mean to each other and I want to be that teacher who says we respect tolerance and we respect each other in my classroom,” Sorbe said.
Those are lessons Sorbe learned from some of the other classrooms he’s been in, and he says not all of them were pleasant.
“Growing up gay in South Dakota is not easy. I think I take a lot of the bullying and a lot of the disrespect I got in elementary, middle and high school and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen at the school I’m at,” Sorbe said.
First impressions are important, and Sorbe has made many of them.
“Everybody sort of knows Josh and not just because of Student Government Association work, but because he’s around campus and Vermillion and people just relate to him, because he makes a special point of that,” Hirsch Wittmuss said.
However, no matter how many times Sorbe introduces himself, he won’t say a word that gives you the full story.
“My parents always told me that you shouldn’t have to tell people you’re great. They should be able to think you’re great without you telling them,” Sorbe said.
Instead, Truman Scholar Josh Sorbe will show everyone by making a lasting impression on the world.