While visiting the Dachau concentration camp memorial site in Germany in May 2016, Tyler Swafford experienced what he called “a rare epiphany.
“The site today is a quiet, eerie place afflicted by the inescapable weight of history,” the recent Eastern Kentucky University graduate wrote in his application for a prestigious Phi Kappa Phi (PKP) Fellowship. “The memorial by the roll call area impacted me profoundly. There on a stone wall, the popular slogan emerging out of the Holocaust, ‘Never Again,’ was engraved in five different languages. I was mesmerized by those simple words, contemplating both their idealism and virtue in the context of today’s world. Suddenly, as I walked away, my life’s purpose seemed more clear than ever before. One day I intend to become a human rights attorney who helps revitalize international justice to fight the atrocities that shock our consciences.”
The former quarterback on the Colonel football team and the first Mitchell Scholar at any public institution of higher learning in Kentucky in the nearly 20-year history of the program, Swafford learned recently that he is one of only 57 nationally to receive the PKP Fellowship, which includes a $5,000 stipend for graduate or professional study. The Honors Scholar, who graduated summa cum laude from Eastern in May, will study international relations as a Mitchell Scholar at University College Dublin in Ireland this fall before potentially beginning law school the following year.
Swafford “embodies the ideals of Phi Kappa Phi as a young man of remarkable energy and talent and as a scholar and leader with a deep commitment to improving the lives of others,” said Dr. David Coleman, director of the EKU Honors Program and president of the EKU Chapter of Phi Kappa Phi. “I believe that he is destined to impact the world in profoundly positive ways.”
One of only 12 nationally to earn a Mitchell Scholarship, the Franklin, Tennessee, native also received the 2016 STATS FCS Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award, presented annually to one Division I-Football Championship Subdivision student-athlete who excels not only on the football field and in the classroom, but also in the community and beyond.
In addition to his perfect 4.0 GPA as a globalization and international affairs major, Swafford was selected to present his Honors thesis, a comparative study on the development of democracy in eastern Europe, at the 31st Annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research. This past year, he also joined EKU’s nationally prominent mock trial team, winning an Outstanding Witness Award at the 2017 American Mock Trial Association National Championship Qualifier Tournament. Eastern went on to finish 15th nationally in the national event. He capped his years on the Richmond campus by serving as a student commencement speaker for the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences on May 13.
Far from campus, Swafford joined Colonel teammates and coaches in 2015 to serve for a week with the Hands and Feet Project in quake-ravaged Haiti, where he was “deeply impacted” by the Haitians’ “innocent love for life, sports and people.”
“I feel called to become a human rights lawyer partly because I have seen the faces of the downtrodden,” Swafford wrote in his application essay. “Serving with an orphanage in Haiti showed me firsthand the demoralizing effects of corruption and poverty. Helping assemble an apartment for a family of six incoming Syrian refugees and then welcoming them to Kentucky for the first time brought me face to face with the life-altering effects of tyranny and terror.”
“I want to pursue the best, most rigorous educational opportunities possible,” Swafford continued. “With the right training, I know I can do my part in fostering a more secure, just world: a world where ‘Never Again’ will cease to be a naïve catchphrase constantly defied by Hitler-like madmen, but a serious global objective, a steadfast vow to protect humankind.”
Swafford is the fifth EKU student to receive a Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship in the past eight years.