WHCA Scholarship Awardee Gets Moment in the Spotlight

Matthew Ley has received the White House Correspondents’ Association scholarship for all four of his years at GW.

Matthew Ley at the WHCA Dinner Saturday night. (Courtesy Mr. Ley)
Matthew Ley at the WHCA Dinner Saturday night. (Courtesy Mr. Ley)
April 29, 2019

By Ruth Steinhardt

Matthew Ley has been anticipating this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) Dinner for years, and not for the chance of a celebrity encounter. When Mr. Ley was accepted to the George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs four years ago, he found out he had received a $2,500 GW - WHCA scholarship, which also includes an opportunity to attend the WHCA dinner with some of the nation’s most accomplished journalists. 

But Mr. Ley was the first non-senior to receive the WHCA scholarship, and attendance at the dinner was limited to seniors. So although Mr. Ley has received the stipend for all four years of his time at GW, he’s had to wait for his chance to mingle with the press corps. And this weekend he got his chance.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for four years,” he said, laughing.

Mr. Ley has been interested in journalism since his sophomore year of high school in Miami, when a counselor encouraged him to start working at the school’s daily morning news show.

“I was not the most outgoing kid in high school, so for the first year I was there I was kind of hiding in corners,” Mr. Ley said. “But eventually I realized I could do a lot and not be in the spotlight.”

He continued to do so as a college student, committing to a string of intense internships with media organizations including Voice of America, Telemundo and CNN’s political unit.  During an internship with Webstringers, he helped produce documentaries on ISIS defectors, sorting through intense footage from correspondents in Syria and from the sites of terror organizations themselves.

Mr. Ley’s internship with CNN took place during the 2018 midterm elections, and he was “surprised at how much they let me do,” he said. Most of his assignments were research-based, but when his work was completed, he’d sneak away from his desk to visit the control room, learning as much as he could about production on shows like “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

After all that work, could the WHCA dinner—hosted this year by historian Ron Chernow instead of the traditional acerbic comedian—live up to his expectations?

“It was fantastic,” Mr. Ley said. “It was much better than I anticipated.”

Mr. Ley got to meet other WHCA scholarship recipients and briefly met and spoke with some major journalists, including CNN’s Michelle Kosinski and Wolf Blitzer. “There wasn’t really time to have extended conversations—people told me to kind of steel myself and prepare for a difficult career, but also a lot of congratulations and keep up the good work,” he said.

But the highlight of the evening came when Mr. Ley, who has spent his time in journalism out of the spotlight, took center stage for a moment alongside his fellow WHCA scholars.

“They had us go behind the stage and they gave a little speech, and then they said ‘Here are your 2019 scholars,’ and the curtains opened and I saw thousands of people standing and clapping,” he said. “It was very surprising and definitely a highlight.”

The GW WHCA Scholarship is awarded every year to a journalism and mass communication major with an interest in diversity issues and a demonstrated commitment to a career in journalism.

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