When Chickasaw student William Butler applied for the master’s program for international affairs at the University of Bologna/Johns Hopkins at Italy, he hoped he would get in. He never expected he would not only be accepted into the program, but also rank at the top of the list of applicants.
Now, he will be globetrotting from California all the way to Italy for his new journey.
“I discovered the joint program at the University of Bologna/Johns Hopkins when I studied abroad in Bologna last year,” Mr. Butler said. “I had an amazing time traveling around Italy, eating amazing food, seeing gorgeous places and perfecting my Italian, but I did not expect the experience to have much bearing on my future career prospects.”
But there was something about his experience that stuck with him and soon, he found himself applying.
When Mr. Butler, of Orange, Calif., turned in his application for the graduate program in Italy, he had concerns about whether he would be accepted. Due to the cost of graduate school, he had only applied for the one program, and as a backup had started to look around for other work options as a precaution if he didn’t get in.
One morning his doubts were erased when his mother burst into his room. The ranking of candidates had been released, and of all the applicants across the globe, Mr. Butler was ranked at the top. Not only had he been accepted. He was at the top of the list.
“I always knew that I had good grades and a solid resume for a 20-year-old, but I still felt as if I was somehow ‘falling behind,’” he said. “I was so full of excitement and pride when I found out, and I cannot wait to begin.”
Mr. Butler expressed appreciation for the support he has received from the Chickasaw Nation.
“I cannot overstate how important my Chickasaw citizenship has been for me; I have always done rather well in school and I got accepted into numerous universities/colleges,” he said. “Thanks to my Chickasaw heritage, the aid I received from the Chickasaw Nation and the $10,000 per year scholarship from the San Diego Tribes enabled me to attend the University of California-San Diego.”
The University of California-San Diego was a convenient two-hour drive from home and is home of one of the top political science programs in the nation.
“I wanted to pursue a degree in international affairs because I have always been fascinated with the way the world works,” he said. “I am most passionate for using my love for history, economics and, in general, how the world works to help those that need it.”
As a self-proclaimed “history nerd,” Mr. Butler has spent an ample amount of time studying history, politics and economics, and then applying what he’s learned to the local campaigns he’s worked for.
His fascination has opened doors for him, locally and beyond the California state lines. A chance to participate in the Chickasaw Summer Internship Program led him to an eye-opening internship with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“In the summer of 2018, I was able to participate in the Chickasaw Summer Internship Program with the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Washington, D.C., under the direction of Nedra Darling,” Mr. Butler said. “This provided me with the opportunity to live outside California for the first time ever, and to have a paid ‘political’ job.”
He shared that each day he would wear his suit and ride the subway to the Department of the Interior building. He had access to literature on the history of First Americans, the Native American rights movement, and contemporary Native American issues.
“In the office, I was able to answer phone calls from concerned Natives across the country, sometimes calls from the press, sometimes for emergency situations and oftentimes to help Natives who, like me, were trying to connect to their heritage,” he said. “This experience sparked my passion for public service and truly helped me mature as an independent man, and I am very thankful for the opportunity.”
All of these experiences were a driving factor in his eventual decision to apply for the joint program at Italy.
He will spend his first year at the University of Bologna, and his second year at Johns Hopkins University in Bologna.
“I am most looking forward to the opportunity provided, the friends I will meet, or meet with again, and to learn specifically about what I am interested in,” he said. “On a more personal note, I cannot wait to visit family in Europe again, to see beautiful places around the Mediterranean and to eat like a god on the best pizzas, pastas, cheeses and cold cuts on earth.”
As for his future plans and career, Mr. Butler would rather keep his options open instead of pinning his eyes on one particular goal.
“My life so far has taught me that incredible opportunities spring up often, and I have no idea even what country I will be living in five years from now,” he said. “As of now, I am primarily looking toward a career in development, helping poorer populations raise their standard of living and providing them with the economic opportunity they deserve.
“Perhaps I can even utilize such a career to help Indian Country here in the United States.”
His heritage is something that means a great deal to him. Venturing on the path to obtain his citizenship has enabled him to learn more about his family and discover more about himself as a Chickasaw citizen. He is the great-great-grandson of Roberson Carlton, a full-blood Chickasaw survivor of the Trail of Tears.
“Since connecting with my father’s family, obtaining citizenship and embracing the opportunities put forward by the tribe, I have had a clear sense of purpose in life even if I do not know precisely where I will end up career-wise,” Mr. Butler said. “The stories of the extreme poverty of my father’s birth family, as well as having a direct ancestor on the Trail of Tears, moved me early on to work toward the progress of the poor. Along with my religious beliefs, I felt that whatever gifts I have should be put to use properly in helping the world, rather than simply enriching or empowering myself.”
With a passion and drive to help others, Mr. Butler may be at the start of his career, but it is clear he is determined to make a difference in whatever way he can.
“I do not aspire to be a billionaire or politician, but rather to know I left a positive mark on the world in one form or another,” he said.