That Guy: Judd Kennedy
November 16, 2007
Judd Kennedy has a lot to smile about. He has just been announced as a Marshall Scholar. This is a scholarship that will finance his studies at any U.K. university of his choice next year. Judd was also recently initiated into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. These accolades are just the beginning of describing Judd: eloquence, unassuming intellect — he is fluent in Arabic — passion, and of course, his beautiful eyes and gentle demeanor. That Guy discusses his journey, which includes his passion for social justice, his studies and his plan to eventually live and work in the Middle East.
p. **What is your proudest accomplishment during your tenure at the College?**
p. It’s hard to say because I don’t think that the things that mean the most are always tangible, so to levy them as such is difficult. Personally, I think my greatest accomplishment, or the one that has meant the most to me, has been the Gentlemen and kind of finding my place within that group. It’s not specific, but I came in not knowing my place and not sure of myself at all, and it all changed one moment when I was singing with the group of guys and realized I belonged … I finally got it. That was probably one of the key moments I am going to look back on and think, “Wow … it was amazing to be a part of that.”
p. **What is your favorite Gentlemen historic fact?**
p. Well my favorite, and least well known, fact would be that there was a period of time in the mid-90s when the Gentlemen had a long tradition of streaking the Sunken Garden together after the spring final concert. Sometimes they would do it running, other times they would do it walking. They were crazy. The tradition has since died out but there have been talks of bringing the tradition back. I can’t tell you the rest or I’d have to kill you.
p. **What have you done that you would consider crazy?**
p. I wouldn’t call this so crazy, but I definitely turned a lot of heads when I went to the West Bank to study Arabic. A lot of people were just like, “Really Judd? Are you crazy?” It was during the Gaza disengagement, so there was a large presence of political and military tension at the time. Retrospectively, I thought I was much safer than I actually was, but the trip definitely defined my experiences as a Middle Eastern studies major.
p. **And what is it you want to do with your life?**
p. Especially after my four years at college, I have gained an appreciation for the immense amount of suffering, disparities in status of living and the degree to which much of the world population does not have the resources I have received. I have been given a heart for social justice to help those that can’t help themselves: the weak, poor and oppressed. Wherever I go, I want to be centered on that. Not on self glory or the latest fad, but the idea that I am trying to change the conditions of the world with the gifts that I’ve been given and that I won’t become complacent or satisfied because the world has to and needs to be changed.
I just learned I am going to be attending the School of London next year. While there, I am going to work toward two master degrees there through a Marshall Scholarship: one in international law and diplomacy and the other in management in the Middle East. I will be trying to build on my background on the Middle East and my expertise outside of those two degrees.
p. After that, I’m not sure what I will do. I could see myself working with USAid or another government agency that does work in the Middle East. I know I want to live in Middle East and I want to be able to work and live with people, while actively contributing to help our world’s problems.
p. **Can you tell me a little about the Marshall Scholarship?**
Sure. It is a scholarship for 40 American students each year and is a partnership between the United States and British government to bring students from America to study in the U.K. It’s a sign of friendship; after World War II, England wanted to give it as a sign of goodwill back to America. The scholarship finances your tuition at any of the U.K. universities and I decided to go to London.
p. To be honest, I really wanted to be able to get the scholarship, but I was not entirely sure that I would. It is really difficult to attain, and I was surprised when it actually happened. I was in the football stadium for the JMU game and I got a call from a random number. I checked the voicemail and there was a British accent that said, “Congratulations, you got it.” I was in shock because I couldn’t believe it would actually happen.
p. **Do you believe in fate?**
p. I don’t believe in fate the way it would be expressed as fate. I do think that life is driven [by] a specific purpose and from my faith perspective, it is God working [in] my life to bring about certain ends. I don’t think you should wait for certain things to happen. There has to be a human motive to go out and do things, but much of [what] is determined is God’s will. A case in point is the Marshall scholarship. I spent 12 hours redoing my essay the day before it was turned it in. I didn’t think there was any possibility I would get it and suddenly, I got called back for interview. The last question of my interview was actually about how faith and politics should be intermixed, if at all. I guess I don’t believe in fate, but that a purpose exists behind every action and consequence.
p. **What spurred your passion for social justice and Middle East affairs?**
p. I actually had two different professors that had a truly profound impact on me. Through the Sharpe program, I had the opportunity to take Social Justice and Engagement with professor Schwartz of the Charles Center. He totally rocked my world and really made me think about what it means to be a citizen and how I am going to serve other people. He colored the way I talk and think about things today and put me on the path of everything I’ve done at the College. The second, Annie Higgins, was my freshman Arabic professor. She is now teaching at University of Florida, but she is one of the most phenomenal women I have ever met. She was so passionate and incredibly engaging in class. She is the only professor I know of that would go to all of the cultural dances and then set up five-to-six-hour long coffee sessions with her students. I attribute her mentorship to why I am so interested and want to work in the Middle East.
p. **How have your parents reacted to your desire to work and live in that region?**
p. Well, they were incredibly worried for my first summer. That summer I pushed the limit as far as I could so the next summer, when I traveled to France was kind of a, “Well that’s easy,” type of thing. I think it was after that first year that my parents weren’t as worried about me. They always want me to keep in contact and in touch wherever I am. I would e-mail or Skype to talk to [them] when I was abroad to try and ease their fears. They are still worried but they realize that I’m passionate about it and that’s where I want to live and do my work and they’ve accepted that.