Mitchell Robson is enjoying some R&R in Italy this month, and it’s safe to say he’s earned it.
Robson, of Marblehead, who just completed his junior year at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, already has one major hurdle toward his future completed. He will have all four years of college, including room and board, paid for in full. That’s because he is one of four who were named Calvin Coolidge Scholars by the presidential foundation bearing the same name.
If the name Mitchell Robson sounds in any way familiar, it may be because he was the winner of The Item spelling bee for three straight years, from 2014-16. And, keeping it all in the family, his younger brother, Will, won it in 2018.
Robson said the disciplines learned from studying spelling words had a lot to do with his academic accomplishments, up to and including winning the scholarship (more than 3,400 students applied).
“It taught me how to be disciplined,” said Robson, calling from Rome last week. “I also developed a sense of grit that helped me make the transition to high school.”
The main criterion for being a Coolidge Scholar is academic excellence. Students must also demonstrate a keen interest in public policy, an appreciation for the values Coolidge championed, and a record of service, and humility.
The Scholarship is non-partisan and winners may pursue any academic discipline they choose, according to the foundation.
John Calvin Coolidge, the nation’s 28th president, was known to be frugal and fiscally conservative.
When Robson and his mother, Lena, began researching scholarships last year, she came across the Coolidge grant, he said. Applying for it was a rigorous process, that included sending transcripts, a résumé, getting two recommendations, and writing three essays — two of them about Coolidge.
“One of the reasons (the foundation) started the scholarship was to garner knowledge about Coolidge,” Robson said. “I definitely admire him. I admire the work he did with the federal budget while he was president. He had some revolutionary economic and money ideas.”
One of Robson’s essays concerned how he thinks Coolidge would have handled today’s budget deficit.
“I talked about cutting excessive expenses — and I think we have a lot of excessive expenses — but I also talked about how important the human element is too.”
In the other essay, Robson said, he discussed a more general overview of Coolidge’s philosophy on life.
“I appreciated his value of hard work,” Robson said, “and of how people seem to want to be portrayed as victims.”
What’s left for Robson is his choice of college. He has a good part of his senior year to narrow it down, but with a full scholarship in his pocket — the grant will cover costs for any accredited college or university in the United States — money won’t be an object.
“I’m looking for a pace where the campus is a good fit,” Robson said. “But I have a preference for the East Coast.”
Among those on his list are Harvard, Princeton and MIT, he said.
Students apply for the scholarship during their junior year of high school. Scholars are selected through a multi-stage review process. Semifinalist juries meet across the country to consider top applicants.
Twelve finalists are invited to finalist Interview weekend at the Coolidge Historic Site in Plymouth Notch, Vt., where they interview with the jury, chaired by former Vermont governor and Coolidge Foundation Vice-Chairman James H. Douglas.
Speaking on behalf of the finalist jury, Douglas said: “Year after year we are impressed by the level of achievement demonstrated by Coolidge Scholarship applicants.
“This makes the work of our juries difficult, but leaves us confident that America’s future is in good hands. It is an honor for the Coolidge Foundation to invest in these young people and we look forward to following their successes for years to come.”