This story starts in a windowless room in a Mayfair hotel. After a long and enjoyable lunch, I am questioned by Rupert Thouron to determine my suitability for a Thouron Award, judged against what I am sure is a lengthy list of criteria, including excellent academics, ambassadorial ability, conversational ease and potential.
The Thouron Award is among the most generous scholarships one can receive for postgraduate study, anywhere in the world. Founded by Sir John and Esther du Pont Thouron sixty years ago, the award has supported generations of Brits to attend the University of Pennsylvania, with a similar number of Penn graduates being sent to the UK in return. You’ll receive up to two years of support, including full tuition fees and a generous stipend which will cover accommodation, travel, and so much more.
What this brief introduction doesn’t tell you is that being selected as a Thouron scholar is just the start of your life in the Thouron community.
This begins as soon as you arrive in the US. You’re thrown into the brilliant chaos of a wonderful city, Philadelphia, alongside 5-10 other Brits. There’s so much to explore that it could easily become overwhelming, but you’re standing on the shoulders of decades of former scholars who have built up invaluable knowledge to pass down to you. Throughout the year, there are a series of set events: from a formal festive celebration in the Dental School, to a ski trip in Vermont, to a family garden party in rural Pennsylvania. These, together with - at least in my year - countless road trips, festivals, and drinks, help bind the group together into a cohesive whole.
The fun doesn’t stop there. During the year, again with the kind support of the Thouron family, I undertook research trips to Tokyo and Bogota. Other scholars have been supported to undertake a range of activities, showcasing the aim of the award to support not just scholarship but also to build leadership and ambassadorial character. If you’re selected for the award, you’ll undoubtedly be comfortable with this, but it’s also undoubtedly one of the most rewarding elements of the scholarship. The award opens doors across the US, a country with which the UK has much in common with but which - where it differs - can be jarring for those born and brought up in the UK. Getting under the skin of a fascinating nation, full of contradictions, is so incredibly rewarding.
Immediately before your return to the UK you’ll be inducted formally into the Thouron family, receiving a token of your membership in the form of a tie or scarf with the Thouron crest stitched through. This is compulsory uniform at all future Thouron events, and there are many. Recent Thourons are invited each year to the annual interview day at that same hotel mentioned above, which deepens and reenforces relationships within and across year groups. Other larger events are also scheduled frequently: the award celebrated its half-century with an opulent reception in the British ambassador’s house in Washington DC and next year we will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the award with events in Greenwich and Brooklyn, with many scholars (Covid-19 permitting) sailing between the two together on the Queen Mary II.
Why should you apply for the award? For many recipients, it forms both an opportunity to build on their first few years in the professional world and a base upon which to reach the very heights of their profession. Alumni include famous journalists, politicians, judges, and entrepreneurs. The prize is highly competitive, and you’ll be studying alongside (and will be among) the most promising members of their fields.
I personally have something particularly special to thank the Thouron family for. Six months after my interview in the Mayfair hotel room, on the first day of my LLM at Penn, I met a very sweet Nigerian girl in the courtyard of the law school. We’re due to be married early next year and I couldn’t be more excited. When sat in that small Mayfair hotel room I was doubtful about my potential for success in receiving the award. Finding a wife was entirely beyond the imagination.
Please, do apply for the award. You don’t know where it will take you, or with whom!
John studied for his LLM (master's in law) at the University of Pennsylvania as a recipient of the Thouron Award. Applications for UK students to apply for fully-funded postgraduate study through the Thouron Award close on 1 November 2020.