​Max Klapow

​Arts & Sciences, Class of 2021

​In 1995, Washington University established the William H. and Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholars Program. Named in honor of the late chancellor emeritus and former first lady, the Danforth Scholars Program, as it is more commonly known, attracts students who share their passion for service and commitment to building and strengthening community.

Max Klapow is a senior and a Danforth Scholar pursuing a philosophy-neuroscience-psychology major in Arts & Sciences. Klapow's four years at WashU are littered with accomplishments, from being named a Civic Scholar by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement to becoming one of two WashU students to earn a prestigious Truman Scholarship in April 2020. But for Klapow, it all began with the Danforth Scholars Program. Here he shares his experience as a Danforth Scholar and what the program means to him now as he prepares for the next chapter.

How did you learn about Washington University? What were your first impressions of the university?

I didn't know a lot about WashU before I began my college search. During the middle of my sophomore year, however, my parents had an airline credit that was about to expire and suggested we use it to visit one of the colleges on my list with which I was less familiar. I had only visited smaller colleges, and I found WashU's size completely overwhelming. One day during my visit, I was hopelessly lost, wandering around the campus trying to find a coffee shop with a map on my phone. A student saw me struggling, asked me where I was trying to go, and then offered to show me there. As we walked, I asked her why she came here, and I remember her saying that it's nearly impossible to find a school like WashU that balances extraordinary academics and research with wonderful, kind people. At that moment, it hit me that WashU was a place I wanted to be.

What drew you to the Danforth Scholars Program?

I discovered the Danforth Scholars Program by Googling "WashU's merit-based scholarships." Learning more about the program, I came to realize the Danforth Scholars possessed all of the positive qualities about WashU students that had originally attracted me to the school. The scholarship finalist weekend also was one of the biggest factors in my decision to come to WashU. During that weekend, I had a distinct feeling that these were my people. They were smart but also kind, generous, and empathetic. Growing up gay and Jewish in Birmingham, Alabama, was incredibly lonely, and I truly didn't think this many amazing, diverse people could be concentrated in one place.

What role did the scholarship play in your decision to attend WashU?

It was about as instrumental as a scholarship could possibly be. You can ask anyone who helped me with the college application processWashU was always my top choice. I simply would not be a WashU student without the scholarship I received as a Danforth Scholar. My scholarship absolutely made it financially possible for me to attend WashU.

Please share some of your experiences as a Danforth Scholar.

Camp Miniwanca

The pre-orientation program for first-year Danforth Scholars includes a trip to Camp Miniwanca in Michigan. Part of the American Youth Foundation, Camp Miniwanca was co-founded by the Danforth family and is a special place to the program. You don't even realize you're making friends and becoming a family as you play games and build sandcastles on the beach, but the whole weekend is an essential bonding experience. One of the most under-advertised benefits of the Danforth Scholars Program is that you already have a family the moment you get to campus.

First-Year Seminar

The first-year seminar is also really pivotal. It's a collaborative mix of structured programming and community check-in. Jeffery Matthews, the program director, and [assistant director] Kirsten Smith go to extraordinary lengths to introduce first-year scholars to WashU and the St. Louis area, and they encouraged us to become invested in these communities. The seminar normalized our sense of belonging at WashU and in St. Louis and reinforced the expectation that we make a positive impact from the very start. 

Were you able to meet Dr. Danforth? What have you learned about him and his legacy?

Each fall, first-year Danforth Scholars have dinner with the chancellor at Whittemore House, and I was able to meet Dr. Danforth at the event held during my year. What struck me about him was how interested he was in finding the spark within other people. What seemed to excite him most was learning what excited us most about the world.

How has the program changed you or your college experience?

The Danforth Scholars Program pushed me to do things I never would have thought possible. It gave me the confidence to give a TEDxWUSTL talk as a sophomore and to join the Washington University Prison Education Project to create a positive psychology-based writing curriculum during my junior year. My Danforth Scholar cohort helped give me the confidence to apply for the Truman Scholarship, as well. These privileges, along with the numerous opportunities for community, connection, and growth, have instilled in me a strong sense of responsibility in carrying the Danforth name. As Danforth Scholars, we represent not only the Danforth family but also the ideals set forth by Dr. Danforth.

As graduation nears, what will you take away from being a Danforth Scholar?

Everyone has the capacity to positively impact their community and mentorship is incredibly important. The Danforth Scholars Program encouraged me to reach out for help when I needed it and taught me to trust that someone would respond. And when they did, I then had an obligation to return the favor by doing the same for others.

What would you say to donors considering making a gift to the Danforth Scholars Program in honor of Dr. Danforth?

My relationships and successes in life so far would be unimaginable without the Danforth Scholars Program. To donors, I would say that a gift to the program reallly is thata gift. And what greater gift can you offer someone than the opportunity to attend a school like WashU and join a community like the Danforth Scholars? Supporting the Danforth Scholars Program helps impart a sense of promise and worthiness in students who may otherwise be unable to attend, and it makes experiences like mine possible.

To inspire giving in honor of Dr. Danforth, Andy Newman, chair of the Board of Trustees, and Peggy Newman, AB '72, JD '73, have established a special challenge opportunity for the month of February. If 2,000 donors give to any area of the university by February 28, 2021, the Newmans will contribute an additional $250,000 in student support. Pay tribute to Dr. Danforth's legacy by making a gift to the Annual Fund and taking the Danforth Tribute Challenge today.

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