Centre College senior Sam Yates of Newburgh, Ind., has just received a George J. Mitchell Scholarship—the first ever given to a Centre student.
Named for Senator George Mitchell to honor his work with the Northern Ireland peace talks, the award is presented to up to 12 students per year to study in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. It is one of the top post-graduate fellowships available to Americans. Other institutions represented on this year’s Mitchell Scholars list include Princeton, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Swarthmore and Dartmouth.
Mitchell Scholars spend an all-expense-paid year studying at one of the nine universities on the island of Ireland.
Yates, who will begin studying “Theatre and Performance” at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) next September, says that “for a relatively small population, Ireland has produced many of literary juggernauts in the 20th century—Keats, Joyce, Samuel Beckett—and a distinct theatrical voice emerges from its people. I’m interested in how that voice and its exploration of national identity works—and how that exploration is applicable to American drama.”
While researching the profiles and history of Irish institutions of higher learning, Yates says, “Trinity College Dublin emerged as the choice that ‘felt right.’ TCD’s theatre programme is a well-respected and established course of study, and it’s one that offers an interesting specialization on the cultivation of Irish Theatre practices.”
He adds that “not only does study at TCD provide opportunities to work with renowned playwright Marina Carr or view work at the Abbey Theatre, the national theatre of Ireland, but its proximity to the greater Dublin performing arts scene makes it an obvious selection.”
(Trinity College Dublin is also widely regarded as the best university in either the Republic or Northern Ireland, and Yates is one of only two of the 12 Mitchell Scholars who were assigned there.)
Like most Centre students who study abroad, Yates developed a taste for international travel and was eager to return to Europe after participating in Centre-in-London as a student. This time, though, he will be without a Centre professor and fellow Centre students—something he is looking forward to during his upcoming adventure.
“Most definitely what I’m looking forward to most is the experience of complete cultural immersion,” he says. “I last studied abroad through the Centre-in-London program, so I still had 30 Americans around me all the time. Though I’ll have other members of my Mitchell class for support, our respective universities are spread out all over Ireland. Life in Dublin will be a more independent learning and living experience than what I’ve previously encountered.”
Studying abroad while at the College is not the only Centre offering that has prepared Yates for his future.
“Centre has instilled not only a strong work ethic and a genuine love of learning,” he says, “but also a confidence in myself as someone with legitimate ideas and aspirations. Here, we’re taught that stupid questions are the ones left unasked; people debate a Nietzsche reading in Cowan [the College’s dining commons] and see performances that range from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to Blue Man Group at night.
“Centre has helped me develop into more educated, well-rounded individual,” he continues. “I’ll leave knowing that I’ve not gotten to explore all that Centre has to offer (the downside to major requirements), but I’m grateful for the time I’ve shared here.”
Well known at Centre for his acting, directing, and play-writing talents, Yates has not only played starring roles in Centre productions but has taught Shakespeare and drama to students in Kentucky public schools and local youth programs.
Since acting in his first play in third grade, Yates has graced the stage countless times, but he says that his favorite role was Lady Bracknell in the DramaCentre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest. “I never expected to be cast in the role,” he says. “It was the first time I lost myself in a character.”
A Centre John C. Young Scholar, Yates has been researching socio-cultural construction of the personal identity onstage and has been completing a stage adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted.
(The John C. Young Scholars program is designed to serve strong, highly motivated senior students allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing. Each Scholar works with a faculty member who serves as his or her project director collaborates with him or her in designing the program.)
This past summer, Sam served as a writer’s assistant and assistant dramaturge for the 2010 Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Music Theater and Playwrights Conferences, where he helped research and develop works with playwrights such as Alfred Uhrey, Paul Oakley Stovall, Carrie Barrett and Yaroslava Pulinovich. He currently sits on the reader’s committee for the upcoming O’Neill season.
In 2008, Yates received the Max P. Cavnes First-Year Book Prize, awarded to the man and the woman with the highest academic average at the end of their first year. He has been named to the Dean’s List of Academic Honors six times, and he is also a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, a leadership fraternity.