BY HEATHER WOOD
The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the oldest in the world.
However, since becoming the national secretary for Bermuda Rhodes Scholarship, Christie Hunter Arscott has learnt that not every student knows that it exists or might be open to them.
It is a shame, she believes, as it offers a tremendous opportunity to anyone with “outstanding intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service” – the chance to attend the University of Oxford.
There is one Rhodes Scholarship offered to Bermuda each year. It covers university and college fees and also provides a stipend for living expenses for “two, and possibly three years” while a student of the renowned institution.
“There’s great awareness of the Rhodes Scholarship among certain circles and groups and less among others,” said Ms Hunter Arscott, a former Rhodes Scholar who is responsible for running outreach and selection for the scholarship.
Nearly 100 Rhodes Scholars have come from Bermuda since it was established by the will of Cecil Rhodes in 1902. Three are now studying at the school – Ryan Robinson Perinchief, Kenza Wilks and Emma O’Donnell.
Candidates must write an essay to accompany their application and also submit a statement of academic study.
Students are shortlisted based on a range of criteria, not all of which involve being book smart.
One of the most phenomenal opportunities in the entire world.
“The idea is really ensuring that we hone in on people that are not just overachievers for overachieving but really focused on societal good and impact and caring for others and making an impact on any community they’re a part of. And then the last piece is really moral force of character and instincts to lead,” Ms Hunter Arscott said.
Applicants are then questioned by seven people on a range of topics such as their interest, their academic background, their impact and challenges they’ve overcome.
The selection committee is comprised of three former Rhodes Scholars and two members of the community “who didn’t necessarily go to Oxford on the Rhodes Scholarship”.
“I think the experience at Oxford, the exposure, the discussions you have in and outside the classroom, the feeling like you’re part of living history….there’s so many things I could go on about that are incredibly special. And I think it is worth, because it is one of the most competitive scholarships in the world, it is worth starting to think about this early,” Ms Hunter Arscott said.
“At a minimum, I would say freshman, sophomore year of college would be great. But I think the sooner the better, even when you’re beginning university.”
She described the scholarship as “one of the most phenomenal opportunities in the entire world” but acknowledged that some people might be put off applying because o
f all the hoops or because, “rightly so, there is a grappling with the legacy of Cecil Rhodes”. An ardent believer in British imperialism, he served as Prime Minister in what is today Cape Town and is often described as an “architect of apartheid”.
Despite that, his will specified for “young students who would fight the world’s fight” and “directed that no candidate for a scholarship should be qualified or disqualified on account of race or religious opinions”.
Committee members look for individuals who are “self-driven and intrinsically driven to make an impact.”
“That may take many shapes and forms,” Ms Hunter Arscott said. “It could be a scholar who’s studying marine biology and mentoring people in her university or internship. It could be someone that is doing a community service project, it could be someone that’s focusing on a social impact career. I think there’s a diversity of experiences that fit these different categories.”
To successfully apply for the Rhodes Scholarship, residents must be Bermudian, or either themselves or their parents be a permanent resident certificate holder. They must also have been educated on the island for at least five years.
Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 23 or, not older than 27 in the case of people who completed their undergraduate degree later than usual.
Applications will be accepted between June 1 and October 15 with successful candidates notified in the last week of November.
Rhodes Scholars automatically “become a member of an enduring lifelong community”, Ms Hunter Arscott said.
“It’s more than funding. It’s a lifelong network and experience.”