Established by Tom Smith ’48, the scholarship covers expenses for two consecutive semesters of study at a university outside the United States. It recognizes a senior who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, leadership, and a commitment to community service.
Harper will use his scholarship to pursue a year-long master’s degree in conflict resolution and reconciliation studies at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.
A native of Sylva, N.C., and history major at Davidson with a minor in religion, Harper played football, participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and held a Terry Scholarship. He participated in the Davidson in Cambridge program the summer before his junior year.
He is writing his senior thesis on Martin Luther King Jr.’s references to the Apostle Paul during the Civil Rights Movement, and the way in which Paul’s work of bringing together Jews and Gentiles in the early Christian church mirrored King’s attempts to reconcile various groups during the Civil Rights Movement.
According to Harper, King was first and foremost a preacher, and Harper believes that King’s actions on the political front “flowed out of his understanding of what it meant to be an advocate for justice and a voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.”
Faith has always been important to Harper, and in his studies of King and Paul he found an intersection between extracurriculars and what he was learning in the classroom. He credits his relationships with the outstanding religion department faculty members for helping him align his personal beliefs and academic interests. “A lot of people — Christians and non-Christians — have had bad experiences with Christians and the Church, and I think it’s vital to heal those wounds through reconciliation,” he said.
Last summer he received a Davidson Ministry Fellowship and worked at Lake Forest Church under the direction of Davidson alumnus Michael Flake ’06, who had also received a Ministry Fellowship. With a mentor who knew what it meant to be the intern, Harper was able to experience many aspects of life at Lake Forest Church. He led a community service week at the Ada Jenkins Center, taught Bible study, led a discussion for community members on C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and even gave a sermon. Harper said that one of the most rewarding parts of this experience was interacting with people of so many diverse beliefs, ages, and backgrounds.
Graduate Fellowships Committee chair Scott Denham, the college’s Dana Professor of German Studies and Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, said Harper’s interest in working toward an M.Phil. in conflict resolution and reconciliation will help him take his interests and studies to a higher level.
The graduate program in Dublin Harper will enter involves two terms of interdisciplinary study in Belfast, and the opportunity to work with local peace-building organizations. The final term of the program takes place in either Belfast or Dublin, allowing students time and resources to write their dissertations.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind program because it offers both practical experience and an interdisciplinary academic approach to reconciliation,” Harper said.
His classes will include the study of intercultural theology, the theology of reconciliation, research and methodology, and case studies of various leaders.
Harper is most interested in the opportunity he will have for hands-on reconciliation work with local peace-building organizations. “You can study reconciliation anywhere, but I’ll have a special opportunity to live where it’s still an on-going process. I’ll be learning from people who have been working on this for a very long time.”
Harper is considering a career in either law or in ministry, or a hybrid of the two. But he is certain that part of his calling is reconciliation, and looks forward to the opportunity the Smith Scholarship will afford him to clarify his intentions. By studying reconciliation in the classroom and in the field in a divided Ireland, he hopes to gain a better understanding of why and how different people can find common ground on holy ground.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,900 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.