Meet the 2003 Outstanding Seniors

April 23, 2003

Just months from his Maryville College graduation, Maryville College, Preston Fields recently sent an e-mail to Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate John Kerry.

The e-mail, sent from his room on campus late one night, was the result of some soul-searching: What would he do after Maryville College? What would he do with majors in international studies and religion and a résumé filled with volunteer and public-service activities?

“ I’ve always thought I would like working in government,” Fields said. “I have family in Massachusetts, so I knew of John Kerry and I knew I respected him. I saw from Sen. Kerry’s website that they had staff positions open, so I attached a resume and basically wrote ‘Take me.’

“ By 11 a.m. the next morning, I had an e-mail back requesting a writing sample and letters of reference.”

Sen. Kerry’s staff members apparently liked what they saw in Preston Fields. The MC senior will move to Washington, D.C. this summer to begin work in Kerry’s press office.

Fields, a 1999 graduate of Knoxville Catholic High School and the son of W. Preston and Barbara Fields of Knoxville, looks forward to the opportunity to make a difference in government.

Making a difference is something Fields has been all about in his four years at Maryville College. His academic achievements and contributions to college and community were celebrated during an April 12 Academic Awards Ceremony held at the College. One of five finalists nominated for the Outstanding Senior Award, Fields, along with other finalists, was presented a framed certificate.

Established by the Maryville College Alumni Association in 1974, the Outstanding Senior Award recognizes those students “whose overall record of academic achievement and participation in extracurricular activities stands out as most exemplary.” Only those students with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 are considered for nomination.

Dedicated to the things that matter

In presenting his advisee to the crowd at the April 12 ceremony, Dr. Bill Meyer, associate professor of religion and philosophy, described Fields as a “worldly saint – someone who is genuinely wise and knowledgeable about the world and, at the same time, is deeply dedicated to improving its future.

“What makes Preston Fields tick is a deep-seated faith that drives him to be dedicated to the things that matter most in life, namely truth, justice and love,” Meyer continued. “This unswerving dedication is evident in his studies, his service and his friendships.”

Involved in service, youth ministry, and social justice in high school, Fields’ high school guidance counselor thought the Bonner Scholars program at Maryville College might be a good fit for him. Funded through the Bonner Foundation of Princeton, N.J., the Bonner Scholars program provides civic-minded students scholarship dollars in exchange for hours of community service.

Fields was selected for a Bonner Scholarship and was also awarded a Distinguished Scholar scholarship because of his academic achievements in high school. He said that initially, financial aid played a large role in getting him to enroll at Maryville College, but the academics and extracurricular activities have kept him there.

In four years, he has tutored in the Student Literacy Corps, founded the Maryville College Catholic Community, worked with the Maryville College Young Democrats, and served on the Student Government Association’s President’s Cabinet. Off campus, he has been an intern with East Tennessee Catholic Charities and mentored in TRACES foster care. He has served on the volunteer staff of the Columbus Home for Children.

As a finalist for the Outstanding Senior Award, Fields wrote an essay that was submitted to the award selection committee. In it, he said “… Although the academic standards and programs at Maryville College have played a key role in teaching me to think critically and intelligently, I would have to say that it is the extracurricular activities that I have taken advantage of that have made the strongest impact on me.

“ More than anything else, my work with abused and neglected children through the Bonner Scholars program has allowed me to find my life’s passion. No matter where I am or what I do in the next five, 10 or 50 years of my life I am fully committed to improving the lives of children.

“ The average age of the homeless in America is 9, one in three girls and one in four boys will be sexually molested sometime in their childhood. One in four children in America is living in poverty, 2,260 children will be born into poverty today and 27 will die because of poverty,” Fields’ essay continues. “These statistics are permanently imprinted in my mind. I do not only know these statistics but I have seen, interacted and loved the children behind them. I blame Maryville College completely for putting me in these horrible situations, and I can’t thank you enough for it.”

Open eyes, open heart

A senior thesis that applied the critical insights of political theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to the new Bush Foreign Policy Doctrine opened Fields’ eyes to global issues, just as studying abroad in Worcester, England, during the 2002 spring semester did.

Fields’ travel abroad is not finished. In June, he and another Bonner Scholar will board a plane bound for Haiti. With the assistance of Maryville College Associate Professor of Management Dr. John Gallagher and Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, Fields has created an internship with a parish on the Caribbean island. He hopes it will become an annual opportunity and a win-win for everyone involved. The Maryville College students will put economic textbook lessons to real-world tests, and the needs and problems of the poverty-stricken Haitian parish will, hopefully, be assessed and addressed through a development project.

Eventually, Fields hopes to earn a master’s degree or pursue a law degree. Non-profit work is appealing to him, as well. In whatever he does, Fields said the Maryville College curriculum, with its emphasis on effective communication, has prepared him to debate and express his opinions with confidence.

He said he hopes to help other students find their passions and how they can best serve the world.

“Maryville College has been incredibly influential and helpful in the formulation of my goals and outlook on the world,” Fields wrote in his essay. “I hope to always stay connected to [it]. This institution has been too large a part of my life not to stay connected.”

More accolades

During the April 12 ceremony, Fields also was recognized with the T.T. Alexander Award and the Bates Bible Award.

The Alexander Award is given every year to the student who submits the best paper on a subject that explains the relationship of philosophical or theological inquiry to social issues. The Bates award is presented to the graduating senior demonstrating the most ability in the study of religion or philosophy.