WHS grad DiSpirito wins prestigious Truman Scholarship

WHS grad DiSpirito wins prestigious Truman Scholarship

WOONSOCKET – A Woonsocket High School graduate has received a nationally competitive scholarship to continue her studies in law and environmental work.

Dominique DiSpirito, WHS Class of 2018, is one of 62 students across the country to be named a 2021 Truman Scholar. The junior at the University of Maine plans to use the scholarship to attend law school and pursue a career in environmental policy.

“In a very real sense, I definitely think I’m still processing, but it’s a huge honor and it’s really humbling,” she said. “Because this is what I want to do with my life, so to be recognized nationally as someone who has the potential and they are going to make a difference, it’s a huge honor.”

Named for President Harry S. Truman, the scholarship comes with $30,000 for graduate or professional school along with career counseling, leadership training and access to internships and fellowships with the federal government. The scholarship foundation this year received 845 applications from students interested in public service around the country. DiSpirito, who received the news several weeks ago after what she said was a “marathon” application process, is the only 2021 recipient from Rhode Island.

“I cried. It definitely was a shock. Because the process is very rigorous, and this semester for me and many other college students has been brutal,” she said.

DiSpirito plans to use the scholarship to continue her community work addressing local environmental issues and their effects on poverty. As a student at Woonsocket High School, she worked with the city’s Solid Waste Division to organize a volunteer cleanup. She later interned with the department to try to improve awareness of recycling policies and reduce the number of rejected loads, an issue she said has an outsize impact on low-income communities.

“I know from my experience working in recycling that food waste is a big issue in hauling,” she said. “One, it fills up our landfills faster, and two, it’s really expensive.”

DiSpirito said food waste can account for up to 30 percent of a community’s hauling costs. For communities like Woonsocket, those costs take away resources that could be diverted elsewhere while also contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and filling up landfills. They also fail to address the needs of residents in the community who are food insecure.

She is currently writing a thesis on the topic and has continued her community work at the University of Maine. As a member of the school’s Honors College, she helps organize the Maine Day Meal Packout, which provides more than 75,000 meals to food banks across Maine.

DiSpirito said she experienced the power of community while still a student at Woonsocket High School. In 2015, she lost her father, Matthew, to suicide. In the wake of that tragedy, she said, the entire community, including the Woonsocket Police Department, came together to support her and her mom, Stephanie DiSpirito, and her brother.

“The whole community really showed up for me, and I know that has been such a huge indication to me of how much community resilience is such important work,” she said.

Since then, she’s continued to reach out to others at the University of Maine and is a co-organizer of the annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event. She described the Woonsocket community as “really strong” and said she hopes to stay in New England after graduation. She wants to study law at either Yale Law School or Vermont Law School.