Letter From Abu Dhabi: Selecting the 2015 Falcon Scholar

Senator J. William Fulbright was a Rhodes Scholar, and the experience gave him the idea that more Americans ought to have the opportunity to study abroad. We know where that led, of course.

And when we think of Rhodes Scholars, we are likely to envision strong personalities who became presidents, cabinet secretaries, parliamentarians, powerhouses in business, sports, and armies, as well as pundits and public intellectuals in all forms of media. Cecil Rhodes, like Senator Fulbright, created the famous scholarship to “render war impossible” by promoting understanding and advancing that trajectory of people with a “moral force of character and instincts to lead.”

So Rhodes also aimed to empower people who, in his words, “shall not be merely bookworms” by requiring that a scholar show “success in outdoor sports” and also demonstrate “devotion to duty, sympathy for, and protection of the weak.” Compassion is a key virtue of the Scholars, and the Trustees today instruct their selection committees “to identify in candidates the presence of a real concern for the welfare of others … and a commitment to the public good.”

Over the years, the Scholarship has been extended to countries not part of the British Commonwealth (e.g., Germany, the United States), and last year, pilot programs called the Falcon Scholarships Administered by the Rhodes Trust were instituted for China and the United Arab Emirates. It has been my privilege to serve as the chair of the latter selection committee. The Trust requires that, while alumni become involved in the selection, the chair may not be a Rhodes Scholar. I qualified (I also never had a Fulbright).

This year our panel included alumni from Canada, Germany, Kenya, India, and Zambia. The first thing we agreed upon is that none of us had the kind of résumé when we were trying for such scholarships that today’s candidates could present. And we did have boxers, runners, swimmers along with documentary filmmakers, pianists, and inventors among the finalists.

But what impressed us most is the very compassion about which Mr. Rhodes was concerned. Among the candidates were people who created their own scholarships and teaching programs for poor children, support groups and organizations for those in need due to violence and disease, community-wide programs to feed younger siblings if they let the eldest remain in school, and a student who actually invented things that will reduce the carbon and other gases in the air we breathe.

It also occurred to us that perhaps the only thing this group of candidates found difficult was sleep.

Increasingly I find that what defines the grantees we serve is the way they excel in doing multiple things but always in finding ways to help others. It is a very good thing.

Click here for details on who we selected for the Falcon Scholarship for 2015.