O’Connor named Sommerville Scholar

Sept 24 WW_Page_1
Photo of Hiatt O’Connor

Anna-Catherine Kueng ~ Assistant Editor

     Hiatt O’Connor was the recipient of the 2019-20 Sommerville Scholar Award, the University of Lynchburg’s highest academic honor.” 

     O’Connor said, “I was sitting in Schewel with a friend and I got an email from Dr. Jablonski. I was surprised and then excited, with a little bit of giddiness.” 

     The weekly Westover newsletter said, “Hiatt’s recommendation letter celebrates that ‘he is not willing to just get by with intellectual talents he has been blessed with, but works hard to meet his own lofty goals and expectations, and is constantly broadening these goals and expectations as he grows intellectually.’” 

     O’Connor is majoring in political science and philosophy, and has a creative writing minor as well. According to the newsletter, “He has earned a 3.76 GPA, and is a member of the Westover Honors College as well as a Bonner Leader. Through Bonner, Hiatt has volunteered for two years at Brook Hill Farms Equine Therapy Center working with at-risk and disabled youth. Hiatt has also spent two years as head editor of The Prism, and has himself been the recipient of numerous campus, local, and national writing awards.” Additionally, O’Connor has studied abroad in Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Greece. 

     O’Connor said, “I got involved [with The Prism]  three years ago as a junior editor and I enjoy it because I like to write a lot myself. I have always been interested in getting into either publishing or working for a publisher, or being an editor. Something in the field of creative writing publications and it seemed like an interesting opportunity because I had never really read The Prism before, but I had known about it. I was able to get in and become really involved in the process of it. Eventually, I ended up being the co-head editor for two years in a row.”  

     English professor and The Prism faculty adviser, Laura Marello, said, “Hiatt is strikingly intelligent. The quality of his workshop pieces were at the graduate level, as were his comments on other students’ work. He is very confident, thoughtful, and able to connect with others. He is kind. I suspect that his high intelligence and how he has applied it in his courses has made him deserving of the Sommerville Scholar Award.” 

     O’Connor also said, “I joined the Bonner Leader Program three years ago now. You are allowed to choose a service site that you want to volunteer at. I grew up on a horse farm and I had always been around horses. I saw that we could work at a horse farm and I gave it a shot because it was familiar, but then I ended up working with a lot of at-risk youth that had come from similar situations to what I had come from. I could relate to them a lot, so it was just really interesting to see how you could grow alongside a horse and the other animals. I had never really seen that type of therapy before. So it was familiar, but it ended up being unfamiliar and new in a really good way. I graduated from the program last year, but I still go and volunteer.” 

     Dr. Edward DeClair, Director of the Westover Honors Program, said, “Hiatt joined Westover as a second semester freshman. We were pleased that he accepted our invitation. Westover Honors College courses are interdisciplinary by design and I think Hiatt truly thrived in this environment. As a philosophy/political science joint major with a writing minor, Hiatt was already deeply committed to transcending disciplinary barriers that exist between individual academic silos. Hiatt’s interest and the academic goals of the Westover Honors College were well-suited to one another as he explored significant questions that cross individual disciplinary boundaries. I think Hiatt benefitted from participating in the Honors College, but I think the Honors Fellows and Honors faculty also benefited from Hiatt’s participation.” 

      As a double major,  O’Connor said, “I have always been really curious and I like to know how things work. In my junior and senior years of high school, I got really interested in political science and politics, but I got to college and I did not want to only do political science because it was almost too analytical, too many numbers. But, philosophy allowed me to broaden my intellectual curiosity and sort of delve into a bunch of different things, like aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics. So, really, it just satiates all the curiosities that I would have never had a chance to explore otherwise.” 

     O’Connor’s decision to add  a creative writing minor was the result of an experience he had prior to entering college. 

     He explained, “I would not have [gotten a creative writing minor] otherwise if it were not for Mr. Holt. I had never written a lot. As a kid, I would always draw. But, Mr. Holt, my high school AP English teacher made us write a short essay mimicking Huck Finn’s voice from Huckleberry Finn. We had to write like that and sort of make those inflections and write creatively. It was kind of the first time I did that in my life and I loved it. I wanted to keep doing it. So, I came in and I wanted to try creative writing more so I just picked up a minor to see if I would like it and turns out, it is what I want to do more than anything now.”

     Dr. DeClair elaborated on O’Connors versatility. He said, “Hiatt is incredibly well-rounded. As a Bonner Leader and Westover Fellow, Hiatt represents the best that the University of Lynchburg has to offer.  He’s intellectually curious, committed to his academics, and has a strong social conscious.” 

     When looking ahead to what O’Connor will miss after graduation, he said, “It is probably going to be the school. I know that is very cliche and general, but being able to wake up and know you are going to learn something new, and it is things that you care about and things that you are very invested in; And being surrounded by faculty members who are experts in their fields and can answer questions. The opportunities here are fantastic if you love to learn.”