This is a story of a vibrant, living and compelling desire to further the Rotary ideal of international service through the bonds of friendship and understanding; a story of a small group of men, Georgia Rotarians, dedicated to a humanitarian ideal, which led an entire state into an adventure of international service. It is a story that Georgia Rotarians believe should be told, not in the spirit of boastful pride, but as offering an example of international service which has not only encompassed the world, but in return, has given Georgia Rotarians the deep satisfaction achieved through an unselfish application of service above self.
It was in 1946 that the world began to see, for the first time in many years, the light of peace and yet, at the same time, it saw desolation — ruin — despair in too many war-torn countries throughout the world. In this same light, a Georgia Rotarian, William A. Watt of Thomasville, saw the need for a practical application of the Rotary ideal of international service; one which must look to the future of world peace and at the same time one which could give courage to those living in despair of the present. It was only logical that this application of international service be centered around the youth of the world, in whose hands would rest the future of world peace.
So was born Will Watt’s idea. As a past District Governor of Rotary, he advanced this idea to the Rotarians of former District 165 which at that time included the entire State of Georgia. The 1945-46 District Governor, Irwin Ingram, strongly supported the proposal. Thus in the Fall of 1946, three young men and one young woman from European countries, became the first Rotary sponsored students to attend schools in Georgia. A small committee with Past District Governor Theodore T. Molnar as its head, administered the program and began a project that later became the Georgia Rotary Student Program organization.
Through the years, the interest of Georgia Rotarians in this program grew in intensity; the per capita contribution by Rotarians and the special club donations increased, permitting a steady increase in the number of scholarships granted. The State University System, as well as privately operated institutions, early recognized the value of the program, and by waiving out-of-state registration fees, materially aided in the reduction of the cost of scholarships. In the years since the inception of the program, over 2,700 young men and women, from more than 78 countries, have been brought to the campuses of Georgia by its Rotarians.