Holy cross

Miles Folsom, valedictorian of the Holy Cross, will give a speech on the will // The Observer

Holy Cross College valedictorian Miles Folsom began his studies in prison as part of the Moreau College Initiative.

In his keynote, Miles Folsom plans to talk about willpower. Willpower, he said, can and has done amazing things, including taking him from maximum security prison to becoming this year’s valedictorian at Holy Cross College.

“If you try as hard as you can and never stop trying, you’ll be amazed at how much you can do and the things you can do,” Folsom said. “The will saved my life. It made me an artist. This allowed me to participate in the creation.

Folsom was a student of the Moreau College Initiative, a collaboration between Notre Dame and Holy Cross offering students incarcerated at Westville Correctional Facility the opportunity to work for an Associate of Arts and eventually a Bachelor of Arts degree from Holy Cross.

At the age of 15, Folsom was arrested and sentenced as an adult to 36 years in prison for assaulting an acquaintance with a pistol while dealing drugs with an earlier felony of burglary also used in the sentencing. against him.

“I was just a dumb kid who wanted to get high and sell drugs and live my life that way,” he said of his life before he went to jail. “My mind was this tiny little black box, and I couldn’t see outside.”

For the first eight years of his sentence, Folsom was incarcerated in a maximum-security prison before being transferred to Westville Correctional Institution, where he learned about the initiative and applied himself to it.

The application was rigorous and only 25 of the 200 applicants were accepted into the program.

“If you’re not on top of your game, if you don’t come prepared, you’re not going to go in. So whoever comes in, they’re hungry, and you see it, and, man, I just loved it see it,” Folsom said.

Taking classes in prison, Folsom said, was a unique challenge and normality was hard to come by.

“You have to walk through the prison yard to get [to the Moreau College Initiative]you have to walk past three or four guards, you don’t know if they’re going to wall you off, pat you down and harass you for contraband you never got,” Folsom said.

With all the challenges, however, Folsom said he had more supporters than he could count throughout his run.

At the age of 17, Folsom was featured in the documentary “Young Kids Hard Time” and received letters and books from viewers around the world.

“The kindness they showed me helped change who I was. I kind of dove into every book I could find, looking for knowledge,” Folsom said. “And eventually, I mean, instead of looking in the books, I turned around and looked at myself, and looked at my own issues, my own story.”

Folsom also said the initiative was powerful in his development as a researcher.

“The sense of community, the sense of brotherhood, the very intimate academic relationships where a professor is really going to sit down with you and care about your ideas… I absolutely loved that, and I can see it blowing almost every people who take the program away,” Folsom said.

Graduating this spring with a 3.96 GPA, Folsom majored in the humanities and found growth as a scholar by reading and writing rigorous academic papers.

Notre Dame humanities professor Stephen Fallon, he said, was particularly influential to him in two courses.

While taking Fallon’s “Shakespeare and Milton” course, Folsom wrote a thesis on the presence of acrostics in John Milton’s epic, “Paradise Lost.” This thesis led Folsom to become the first prisoner to be published in the Notre Dame Journal of Undergraduate Research in April 2019.

In Fallon’s poetry class, Folsom explored the poetry of WB Yeats. Folsom’s 60-page review article, which he wrote for this course, attempts to “completely reframe the way we interpret [Yeats’] poem “Leda and the Swan”, he said.

After graduating, Folsom plans to travel for a few months and then apply for a leadership position that maximizes her contribution to the greater good. A project he hopes to realize, he already said, is to one day build the “most humane prison in the world”.

Tags: Early 2022, Holy Cross College, Holy Cross valedictorian, humanities, Miles Folsom, Moreau College Initiative, valedictorian, Westville Correctional Facility