By Martie Thompson
In the spring of 2011, Mandarin NewsLine published an article by one of our then-student writers entitled, “Former Mandarin Christian student named Fulbright Scholar.” The subject was Mandarin resident William Boyce and the article chronicled his impressive academic success from Mandarin Christian School, to Providence High School, to Florida State University, where he earned a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to the University of Glasgow to pursue a Master of Letters degree. Within the article, Boyce was asked where he saw himself in 10 years, and he answered that he wanted to “earn [his] PhD and begin a career as a university professor.” Flash forward to 2021 — 10 years later — and he has accomplished both of those things. Boyce said now that he doesn’t particularly remember giving that answer, but that it was certainly something that he had on his horizon. Today, he is a postdoctoral faculty member at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, NC. His parents still live in Mandarin.
Q: You grew up in Mandarin. What memories do you have?
A: We lived off Mandarin Road near the Mandarin Community Club. I remember the beautiful big oak trees and the azaleas … and I remember my allergies going crazy. I also recall the Art Festival each year and how busy it was. I enjoyed growing up in a nice, close-knit community like Mandarin.
Q: Can you give some insight into your academic accomplishments at an early age through high school?
A: I always had a knack for school. I was reading at a young age and was always interested in trying to apply what I learned. I enjoyed conversations with adults and even politics at a young age. I was stronger on the humanities side rather than math. I wanted to use education to do something in the world. I guess you could say I was nerdy, but I also enjoyed people. I was actually my high school’s Homecoming King!
Q: What do you consider to be a defining point in your studies in college?
A: When I went to Florida State University, I started as a history/English major. In my third year, I took a class I thought was just another English class: US Catholic Writers. I fell in love with it. It was engaging and interesting and it dawned on me that I wanted to study religion. I was captivated by these writers that touched the human spirit, so I added Religious Studies to my major.
Q: How did you come to get the Fulbright scholarship and then what did you do next on your way to your PhD?
A: I wanted to get a Master’s degree and I needed to have it paid for. My mentor at FSU encouraged me to apply for the Fulbright and I was amazed that I received it. I had the great good fortune to spend one year in Glasgow, where I earned a Master of Letters in Religion, Theology and Culture. When I came back to the states, I went to a seminary school north of Boston. I spent two years there earning a Masters in Theology and was very active in campus reform. I always try to craft and shape and leave things better than I found them. By then it was time for my PhD, and I was accepted at the University of Virginia. It was an exciting time for me with a lot of interests and areas of study. I enjoyed that it was a teaching-heavy institution and I was able to hone my skills at teaching. The classroom is the heartbeat for me. I try to get students to think in creative and new, critical ways — and do so with hospitality, vulnerability, and humility.
Q: What thoughts do you have now, looking back on your 10 year plan?
A: I would say that something written by the poet WB Yates speaks to me here: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I’ve always done well in school, but for me it was about the feeling of gratitude and wonder that comes from learning. When you sift through the archives of history and find out that writers of the past can still be very relevant today, for example. This is something I’d like to pass along to my students.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I love to go antiquing and consignment shopping. I enjoy running and I like to go to coffee shops and spend time with my friends. I’m also enjoying learning how to cook.
Photo courtesy William Boyce