Thursday, November 4

The Rhodes

I got an email from the selection committee of the Rhodes Scholarship Trust for District 14 earlier this week. That would be the group that chooses two students from Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming and Montana to study at Oxford University for two years, all tuition and living and everything expenses covered, the same award that brought Bill Clinton, Nicholas Kristof and other American luminaries to England.

I tried to avoid talking about the fact that I had applied. I thought it was pretentious to even admit that I thought I had a chance. Not that I wasn't pretentious or arrogant or any of that. I thought I had an even shot at the scholarship. I looked at the biographies of Rhodes Scholars selected in the past few years and thought I measure up. I have a shot. At least with the ones whose most prominent achievements were in service. Not the ones who had an internship with the World Bank and wrote a thesis on economies of the developing world or had their research and names published in leading scientific journals. I am an Eagle Scout. I wrote an full thesis on service-learning. I graduated summa cum laude. I studied abroad and am marginally bilingual. I spent a bleeding year directing orphanages on other continents. That seemed to pretty well cover the three criteria of literary and scholarly attainments; truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship; and moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one's fellow beings. As far as I was concerned, the only criteria I missed was the demonstration of an energy to use one's talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports.

But I guess that was enough of an omission because that email earlier this week was to inform me that I was not selected to attend a personal interview mid-way through the month. I think it would be appropriate to say that devastated me. Sure, whenever someone mentioned the possibility of life in England after I submitted my application, I would say I needed to have the interview first, but I didn't really mean that. As much as possible, I thought I was a shoo-in for an interview and was preparing for that, which is a surprising lot like filling out a Facebook profile in being able to identify a favorite novelist, nonfiction writer, poet, painter and so on as well as demonstrating a familiarity with current events and having an opinion on them. I was trying to figure out the best way to get to the interview and who I could bum a bed or couch off of for a night.

The email sent me into a tailspin. The day after, for the fourth time in a row I was told not to come in for work since not enough rooms had been rented the night before. Without the chance for distraction through scrubbing bathrooms and making beds, I spent the day watching streaming Netflix. I watched the entire first season of Archer, got through the first few episodes of Samurai 7 and finally saw the fruits of Werner Herzog and Nicholas Cage's collaboration Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans.

I'm better now, I guess. If I think about it, it bothers me, as in What more could I have done?, but I'm not actively seeking distraction from that line of thought anymore. I'm trying to remind myself that the odds were always against me. I'm trying to focus on the positive, in that I get to spend next year with Demetra and not be separated from her by an ocean and continent.

It's weird. It was my last real opportunity to be officially told that my performance and achievements were greater than those of others. I am no athlete, obviously, so there are no Rookie of the Year or Most Valuable Player awards to compete for. I have little interest in going on to graduate school otherwise, so there are no more scholarships or fellowships to apply for or academic honors nights to attend. All part of being an adult, I hope, admitting I'm not that great and no longer being told that I am great, having to find the motivation and whatnot in myself.

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