Courtesy of Catherine Hadley  Buy this photo.

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When first-year LSA transfer student Catherine Hadley saw an email notification from Dean Anne Curzan with the subject line “Congratulations! Wonderful, happy news” pop-up in the corner of her screen, she immediately clicked on it and was brought to tears.

Hadley was working virtually as a junior associate for Patriotic Millionaires when she received the email notifying her that she had been selected as a 2021 Truman Scholar. Hadley is the University of Michigan’s 28th recipient of the Truman, one of the most prestigious awards an undergraduate student can receive. The scholarship allocates up to $30,000 to each selected student to help cover the cost of attending graduate school at an institution of their choice.

Hadley began the application process in the fall semester and was announced as a national finalist on Feb. 19, 2021. She never expected to be one of the 62 Truman Scholars named out of 845 applications and felt overwhelmed with emotion when she received Curzan’s notification, Hadley said.

“I immediately started crying — I was thrilled,” Hadley said. “My team (at Patriotic Millionaires) is very supportive of the Truman (Scholarship), so we all kind of celebrated and danced around the Zoom screen. It was just amazing.”

Henry Dyson, Director of the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, assisted Hadley during the competitive application process and told The Daily the Truman Scholarship differs from Rhodes, Marshall and other similar scholarships as it prioritizes candidates who are heavily involved with public service.

Established in 1975 as a living memorial to President Harry Truman, the scholarship targets undergraduate students who possess a demonstrated focus in community service, and requires them to craft a policy proposal targeting a particular societal issue they would hope to fix. Truman scholars are typically expected to pursue a career in public service after receiving their graduate degree.

The Truman Scholarship is a particularly special award to Dyson as it aligns with the University’s mission as a public institution, he said. 

“U-M uses its research, its educational mission to address the public good,” Dyson said. “That’s part of what our identity is. So, to me, the Truman holds a special place among the scholarships that we have because it fits with our identity as a great public institution.”

Each participating university is allowed to advance four applicants to be considered as potential national finalists; however, institutions may also nominate up to three additional students who — like Hadley — began their undergraduate experience on one campus and later transferred to another university. Dyson said he is a proponent of the additional spots designated for transfer students, since these students often face challenges when starting over at a new university and may not have the same opportunities to take on leadership roles in campus organizations as quickly as non-transfer students.

“You have to rebuild your social networks, you have to get involved in student leadership in organizations, you have to reorient,” Dyson said. “Recognizing that there’s a different path for (transfer) students is not giving them special consideration, but really leveling the playing field.”

Hadley transferred into the University this fall from Washtenaw Community College. After dropping out of high school, establishing a coffee pop-up shop in Detroit and then taking time to raise her two sons at their home in Ann Arbor, Hadley enrolled at WCC part time in the winter of 2017.  

Hadley transferred to the University because she was excited about its sociology program and close proximity to her family.

Hadley said her toddlers have been a big inspiration to her regarding her decision to transfer and dedicate her life to public service.

“My toddlers think that the big ‘M’ on the stadium … is for ‘Mama,’ and it’s Mama’s school,” Hadley said. “So obviously I had to go (to Michigan) because they built me an entire stadium.” 

Fox, Hadley’s four-year-old son, confirmed he does believe the block ‘M’ in the Big House is a monument to his mom. He told The Daily he is proud of her for winning the scholarship and pursuing her education.

“Proud of Mama getting the Truman,” Fox Hadley said. “(Mama) goes to school to save the world.” 

Maya Barak, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Studies at the University’s Dearborn campus, attended kindergarten with Hadley and has been her friend ever since. Barak also wrote one of Hadley’s recommendation letters for her Truman application. Growing up with Hadley, Barak said she has always been proud of her advocacy and leadership on behalf of others.

“She’s always lived life on her own terms,” Barak said. “I remember her taking the lead when kids were getting bullied in our eighth-grade homeroom … She’s always been someone who’s had really strong convictions and has always cared about others.”

Hadley said one of her proudest accomplishments to date is founding, which gathers reviews from users of various identities and demographics and uses them to assign a series of letter grades to various healthcare providers. 

“My hope is … that BirthSafe is just a place that somebody can go and (ask), ‘Is this provider going to be a good fit for me and who I am as a person?’ … whether that’s a plus-sized birthing person or LGBTQ+ or a birthing person or an indigenous birthing person,” Hadley said.

Having been yelled at while giving birth, experiencing substantial medical complications following a C-Section and almost dying while giving birth to her son River, Hadley said maternal health is at the forefront of her public service and policy goals.

“I almost died in childbirth with my second (child) and it was very traumatic,” Hadley said. “I was yelled at during my birth, (the doctors) redid my epidural five times and my C-Section took over 18 months to close… When I published my story (in WCC’s student newspaper) it snowballed into being invited to Mom Congress and lobbying in DC for maternal health bills.”

Already accepted into the University’s Master of Social Work graduate program, Hadley will be using her scholarship to follow the Policy and Political Social Work pathway beginning in Fall 2022. Hadley also aims to pursue a master’s in Public Health or Public Policy and may consider obtaining a dual degree in either of these in addition to her MSW. She said she looks forward to collaborating with the other Truman Scholars on future advocacy endeavors and then drawing on all of her life and academic experiences to launch a public service career in Michigan.

“If you would have told me 10 years ago that this would have been me now, I never would have believed you,” Hadley said. “So I’m just excited to see what manifests and what happens knowing that I’m going to (focus on) my community and lifting up those voices that go unheard and trying to make policies that create safety nets for more people.”

Daily Staff Reporter Roni Kane can be reached at