The island, off the coast of India, is home to Buddhist, Hindus, Muslims — and 300,000 Tamil war refugees. In spite of ethnic conflicts and a bloody 25-year civil war that ended only a year ago, the political science major says the choice of Sri Lanka was a natural.
Five years ago Tolman was volunteering with a local YMCA program when he was greeted by a child with a “Hello, tall American!”
“This was the first time I had met anyone from Sri Lanka, and I couldn’t have asked for a more engaging young ambassador,” Tolman said. “The child’s charming personality and cheeky answers to my questions about his country planted an enduring interest.”
During his sophomore year, he conducted a year-long case study of the political and educational systems on the island nation, and realized he wanted to go there to teach.
“I have a profound respect for the country’s ability to become a modern state while maintaining its unique cultural identity,” Tolman said. “I want to help inspire students to think critically about issues such as educational development and environmental protection.”
Tolman, who hopes to eventually work as a community organizer, would like to see social and economic policies that place human dignity — starting with the alleviation of poverty — at the forefront.
“Of all the advances that modern society has proclaimed to bring, it often forgets one of humanity’s greatest traits — empathy. It seems astonishing that the cultivation of human equality and access to education has been given lower priority than the construction of strip malls.”
When Tolman was young, his grandfather gave him some advice, “Very few of us will be called upon to do great things, but every one of us has the capacity to do something small greatly.”
“I’m not able to change the economic and social conditions that affect the entire world, but I can work to change the lives of people within my reach,” Tolman said.
The graduating senior served as an advocacy intern with Legacies of War in Washington, D.C., helping organize the historic initial briefing on cluster bombs for representatives from the Laotian and U.S. government. As an intern with ASPIRE, he created a framework for the youth mentoring program that will engage the campus and local communities. He has volunteered as an environmental lobbyist and mentored immigrant children in Oregon and Great Britain. Tolman also volunteered with the Linfield chapter of the Model United Nations, the Linfield Democrats, and Greenfield, a student-initiated environmental organization.
“Brett is one of 20 Linfield College graduating seniors who have been selected for Fulbright grants since 1999, with four of these students graduating this year,” said Deborah Olsen, competitive scholarships advisor.
The Fulbright Program promotes mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic achievement and leadership potential.