Highly competitive. Highly acclaimed. Highly unique. The Truman Scholarship is no small fête and these two Bears were awarded it just 20 years apart for their dedicated work on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Truman scholars Skye Perryman (‘03) and senior Veronica Bonifacio Penales share a unique passion for social justice and equality.
Penales is the first Baylor student to receive the award since 2007, competing against hundreds of students nationwide to represent her home state of Louisiana.
Perryman received the prestigious award as a junior in 2002. While at Baylor, Perryman learned that she had the ability to create social change through her work in Waco schools. She now works as the CEO and President of Democracy Forward.
“I worked in public schools in central Texas and worked in programs for students who were from underserved communities, and in doing that, I realized the change that you can make in your direct actions as a person,” Perryman said. “I also realized that the schools that I had been working in, decades before I was working in them, had been segregated. It was the law and advocacy through the law that created the change to desegregate schools. I reflected on that during my time at Baylor to realize that there is work you can do directly to help individual people.”
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation awards scholarships to college students across the country who wish to pursue a career in public service. Students are nominated by their institutions based on leadership, service, and academic excellence.
The highly competitive program, which began in 1977, now has over 3,300 Truman scholars. The 2022 Truman scholars come from 53 institutions, making the class a total of 58 students. Penales is the ninth Baylor student ever to be named a Truman Scholar.
She first met Perryman through her work in student government, where she co-authored the ‘No Crying on Sundays’ bill in support of LGBTQ students and organizations across campus. Perryman led the ‘Thousand Strong Alumni Effort for LGBTQ Students,’ getting thousands of signatures and writing formal letters to Baylor on behalf of alumni.
“[The bill] was mirroring [Perryman’s] efforts as an alumnus to get this LGBTQ group chartered – she has her own personal ties with the fight as well,” Penales said. “The first time I met her in person was when she invited me to spend Christmas with her family in D.C. I genuinely see her as a mom or a cool aunt– I love her family like my own.”
Perryman has been an active Baylor alumna, advocating for equal rights among all students to be able to charter organizations.
“I think the university has done a tremendous job in supporting students for both the Truman scholarship as well as many other national, international scholarship opportunities,” Perryman said. “I do think it is important that the Baylor community be a community that is committed to training future leaders, that is committed to encouraging people to do the right thing even when it’s hard.”
Truman scholars take part in several meetings and opportunities throughout their yearly commitment and then can take part in whatever capacity in the foundation they wish after the graduate.
“The required things to remain a Truman Scholar is that you have to go to TSLW, Truman Scholar Leadership Week, and that is meeting all the Trumans for the first time in your cohort, and that was last summer, and then we had a few meetings here and there,” Penales said. “This summer, the last requirement is SI, which is a summer institute, and that is nine weeks on George Washington University’s campus during an internship. From there, you can go straight into school or straight into the workforce.”
Penales said that she will be using her Truman scholarship of $30,000 to pursue a joint law degree and master’s degree in Public Policy, but before that, she will take part in the Truman Fellowship Program where she will continue her internship work for a year or two after undergraduate. She said she hopes to write policy within the government in her future.
“My path forward is going to be for equal rights laws, whether that be women’s justice or queer rights,” Penales said. “I see myself doing something within equal rights law, maybe for the Human Rights Campaign.”
After graduating in 2003, Perryman went to D.C. and worked in a nonprofit before attending Georgetown University Law School. She worked at two law firms, and then in 2017, she joined Democracy Forward as a litigator.
“I went and dedicated several years to leading the legal team at American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, working on women’s health issues, which are critically important at this time, and then those leadership skills developed in that role and other previous roles, prepared me to come back to Democracy Forward as its president and CEO,” Perryman said. “Through all of that, the community that the Truman Foundation has really been invaluable to my work in public interest and public service.”
In September 2022, Penales attended the 45th anniversary of the Truman Foundation in Washington D.C. at the French ambassador’s mansion.
“It was the coolest experience ever,” Penales said. “It was a cocktail party where you met a bunch of Trumans. We met kids from ‘21, class of ‘20 and even people from the first class of ‘77.”
Penales joins Perryman in the nation-wide circle of Truman scholars, representing Baylor for the rest of her career. The Truman Scholarship Foundation recipients will remain scholars for life, sharing both the distinction and shared goal for social change.