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Holy Cross valedictorian Miles Folsom to deliver address on willpower

| Friday, May 13, 2022

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

In his commencement speech, Miles Folsom plans to speak about willpower. Willpower, he said, can do and has done amazing things, including carrying him from maximum security prison to becoming this year’s Holy Cross College valedictorian.

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

Folsom was a student in the Moreau College Initiative, a collaboration between Notre Dame and Holy Cross providing college students incarcerated at Westville Correctional Facility the opportunity to work toward 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 during a drug deal with a prior crime of burglary also being used in the sentencing against him.

“I was just some dumb kid who wanted to get high and sell drugs and live my life that way,” he said of his life before going to prison. “My mind was this very tiny black box, and I couldn’t see out of it.”

For the first eight years of his sentence, Folsom was put in a maximum-security prison before transferring to Westville Correctional Facility, where he learned of and applied to the initiative.

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

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

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

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

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

When he was 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 was instrumental to changing who I was. I sort of just dove into every book that I could find, in search of knowledge,” Folsom said. “And ultimately, I mean, instead of looking in books, I turned around and looked into myself, and I got down to my own problems, my own story.”

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

“The sense of community, the sense of brotherhood, the very intimate academic relations where a professor will really sit down with you and care about your ideas … I truly loved it, and I can see it blow almost every person that comes through the program away,” Folsom said.

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

Notre Dame professor of the humanities Stephen Fallon, he said, was especially influential for him in two courses.

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

In Fallon’s poetry course, Folsom explored the poetry of W.B. Yeats. Folsom’s 60-page capstone paper, which he wrote for this course, attempts “to completely reframe the way that we interpret [Yeats’] poem ‘Leda and the Swan,’” he said.

Upon graduation, Folsom plans to travel for a few months and then apply for a leadership position that maximizes his contribution to the common good. One project he hopes to carry out, he has previously said, is to one day build the “most humane prison in the world.”

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About Liam Price

Liam Price is a first year Gateway student from Lambertville, New Jersey. He intends to major in political science, and is currently serving as a New Writer Editor for The Observer.

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