Sydney To ’19 Wins Beinecke Award for Graduate Studies in English

Sydney To ’19

Junior Sydney To is the tenth Bowdoin student to receive a prestigious Beinecke Scholarship since the scholarship program began in 1975.

The $34,000 grant supports graduate studies in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. To is one of 18 undergraduate students across the country to receive the scholarship this year. The 125 participating institutions are allowed to nominate one candidate per year for the scholarship.

In Bowdoin’s official letter of recommendation, Assistant Professor of English Maggie Solberg writes that “[f]rom his own accounts and those of his recommenders, Sydney’s academic engagement and drive have been insatiable.”

Bowdoin’s Beinecke Scholars
In the past 43 years, ten Bowdoin students have received the Beinecke Scholarship.

  • 1977, John Leeming
  • 1980, Julie Farnsworth
  • 1986, James Kelly
  • 1994, Michelle Goyette
  • 2000, Marco Quina
  • 2006, Hillary Pietricola
  • 2007, Rebecca Genauer
  • 2011, Sean McElroy
  • 2013, Kiersten King
  • 2018, Sydney To

Associate Professor of English and Asian Studies Belinda Kong, who is To’s advisor, notes in her letter that “in addition to being an exuberant class citizen, [To] often came to my office to talk about the course material, Asian American issues more generally, as well as his other intellectual and literary interests.” A prolific writer, he once turned in a 15-page paper for a 5-page assignment “out of pure enthusiasm.”

“In short, he cared—and this caring informed, animated, and enriched his academic work,” she adds.

To said he will likely use his scholarship to attend a graduate school with a strong post-colonial literature program. In his application essay, he writes that in his first class with Kong, Introduction to Asian American Literature, he realized “how much I had taken the authority of the Western canon for granted.” He continues, “We tend to deny complexity to what is unfamiliar.”

And so over his ensuing years at Bowdoin, To says he has “come to understand my education as the gradual process of acknowledging the significance of all types of voices, and learning how to truly hear people’s words.”

This summer, he will embark on a yearlong honor’s project, investigating “images of violence in Vietnam War literature.” His parents left Vietnam several years after the war ended and settled in California.

After graduate school, To said he’d like to pursue a career in academia, “to continue studying the ramifications of historical colonialism and its modern iterations, and how literature itself is a form of political resistance.”

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