Third graders typically don’t get excited about civic engagement. But when mass communication junior Mia LeJeune woke up on the morning of her elementary school’s mock presidential election in 2008, she couldn’t wait to vote for the first time.
“I remember so vividly how excited I was to vote that day,” LeJeune said. “My parents taught me that voting was important. I couldn’t wait to press my greasy little finger on the button.”
The votes were tallied, and LeJeune said her school’s electronic map of the U.S. turned bright red. But in the upper right corner was one dim blue light, and LeJeune knew it was hers. Of all the students in her Lafayette elementary school, she was the only one to vote for President Barack Obama.
“It stuck with me,” LeJeune said. “When Hillary Clinton lost in 2012 and 2016, and even when Obama was reelected in 2012, I felt like the only blue dot.”
LeJeune told that story when she applied for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation’s annual national fellowship in Nov. 2020. Five months later, LeJeune joined a Zoom meeting expecting to plan an event when LSU’s Interim President Thomas Galligan told her she’d been awarded the fellowship.
More than 300 universities nationwide nominated over 800 students for the $30,000 graduate school scholarship previously awarded to political figures like activist and former U.S. Rep. Stacey Abrams.
“Aside from the money, which is really helpful, Truman scholars are known for going on to do incredible works of public service,” LeJeune said.
Dr. Drew Lamonica Arms served as the University’s Director of Fellowship Advising when LeJeune showed interest in the fellowship. Arms said she noticed LeJeune was a worthy candidate to be the “change agent” the Truman Foundation says it’s searching for.
“Mia’s enthusiasm and deep knowledge not only of issues that concern Louisiana’s election processes but national and even international election issues – from absentee balloting to gerrymandering to how elections work in Europe and the Middle East – was impressive from the start,” Arms said.
LeJeune has been passionate about civic engagement since she was an 8-year-old, and she brought that passion to LSU. She joined Geaux Vote, a student organization that aims to increase collegiate voter participation. After she attended the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement Summit at Harvard’s Institute of Politics in 2019, LSU’s student voter registration rose by 6.5%.
She helped coordinate Gov. John Bel Edwards’ re-election campaign in 2019, won the Governor’s Fellowship in 2020 and ran for president of Student Government on the It’s Time campaign in 2021.
The Truman Foundation chooses fellows based on leadership, academic performance and public service. Edwards and James Carville wrote two of her recommendation letters. Mass communication professor Len Apcar wrote LeJeune’s recommendation letter regarding public service.
As faculty adviser for Geaux Vote, Apcar met LeJeune as a freshman, and the organization’s leadership suggested that Apcar should bring her to Harvard’s Civic Engagement Summit.
“Her interest in voter registration isn’t just a passing thing,” Apcar said. “She didn’t just sit along the wall at Harvard. She threw herself into the experience, and she came back to LSU and put herself in a position to make a difference.”
LeJeune said she was shocked when she saw Galligan, Honors College Dean Jonathan Earle and Interim Mass Communication Dean Josh Grimm in her Zoom meeting on April 9. Her anxiety piqued as she waited for someone to fill her in, and she cried when Galligan told her the good news.
“I was overwhelmed with happy tears,” LeJeune said. “I couldn’t, and still can’t, believe I got the opportunity to not only represent LSU in a positive light but to see University leaders celebrate a female student leader’s accomplishments. It wrapped up a chaotic year for me.”
Arms said that as LSU’s 13th Truman Scholar, LeJeune will represent LSU and Louisiana “in stellar fashion.”
“LSU has done everything for me,” LeJeune said. “I can be critical of this University because I love it. I think she’s incredible, and she’s changed my life in every way.”