Vanessa Kerry Wins Fulbright Grant

Chicago Sun-Times (AP) – Kerry daughter receives Fulbright grant in medicine

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has announced that his daughter Vanessa has won a Fulbright scholarship to study medicine in London. Vanessa Kerry is a 27-year-old Harvard medical student who frequently travels with her father’s campaign. According to the Fulbright Web site, about 1,000 U.S. students are awarded the federally funded fellowships each year of about 4,500 who apply. Kerry told reporters traveling with him to a long weekend vacation in Idaho on Saturday that Vanessa Kerry recently learned she was one of this year’s winners.

She has said she was inspired to seek a career in global health by a visit she made to Vietnam in 1991 with her father. After pre-medical studies at Yale, she studied infectious diseases at Harvard, spending time in Ghana immunizing children.

Kevin Aylward observes, correctly, that she could likely afford to pay for her own study in London and the general reaction seems to be that she is therefore essentially stealing the money from some poor kid who worked his way through school. I’m not sure that follows. The Fulbright is a competitive venture and going to school on a Fulbright is substantially more prestigious than going on mommy’s dime. Further, it’s quite likely that the alternate recipient would have been another rich kid from an Ivy League institution. (Whether such ventures are an appropriate use of federal funds is an interesting question, although I’m reasonably sympathetic.)

There’s no reason that people should be discriminated against because their parents have a lot of money or, for that matter, that mediocre students should be subsidized because their parents are poor. By all appearances, Kerry earned the scholarship and there’s no reason she shouldn’t have it. My guess is that the Heinz Foundation gives away plenty of scholarship money, anyway.

I am, however, slightly amused that Vanessa went to Vietnam.

(And, no, Vanessa is not the one who appeared in a translucent dress at Cannes or whose pet hamster nearly drowned save for the heroics of Vietnam Vet Dad; it was Alexandra in both instances.)

The above photo is from NPR, from a story with the clever headline “The Front-Runner’s Daughter.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark says:

    I am, however, slightly amused that Vanessa went to Vietnam.

    But was she in Cambodia? heh.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The State Department web page on the Fulbright Program says that applicants are

    chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential

    Based on those people of my acquaintance who’ve been accepted for the program and those who’ve been rejected it has appeared to me that political skills and contacts are valued more highly than academic credentials. If this is a “competitive” program, so be it.

    Isn’t there some program or other by which we could induce all of the Kerrys to leave the country? 😉

  3. James Joyner says:

    I know lots of very poorly connected academics who got Fulbright grants, including PoliBlog’s Steven Taylor. I presume this is a somewhat different program, since they’re merely going to school abroad rather than engaging in cutting edge research, but one presumes the process is similar.

  4. dw says:

    There are three different programs: One for grad students, one for academics, one for teachers and administrators. All have the same purpose — get Americans out to study abroad and build academic ties and mutual understanding. They are all administered by different organizations, though.

    They’re still hard to get. 1/4 of applicants receive one. Saying that someone with V. Kerry’s money could just buy her own is like saying she could just buy her own gold medal instead of competing for one in the Olympics.

  5. McGehee says:

    Technically, DW, Vanessa could buy the equivalent of what the Fulbright scholarship gives her, which is much more substantive than buying, say, a medal that looks just like an Olympic gold medal.

    That said, I’m aware that a lot of people are faulting her for accepting the scholarship, and I don’t see the reason for reacting that way.