When it comes to prestigious awards in higher education, nothing quite measures up to a Rhodes Scholarship. This year, Stanford is lucky enough to boast a University-record five scholarship winners, more than any other university in the nation this year. The students, Aysha Bagchi ‘11, Anand Habib ‘11, Ishan Nath ‘12, Kate Niehaus ‘10 M.S. ‘11 and Tenzin Seldon ‘12, will receive three years of free study at Oxford University. (Nath is a current writer on The Daily’s Editorial Board, and Tenzin Seldon serves as The Daily’s student-at-large. Neither student had any involvement in the production of this editorial.) The scholars’ accomplishments reflect primarily their own impressive faculties, yet it is important to remember that their success was contingent on taking advantage of the opportunities available to them — opportunities that Stanford assures are available to the rest of the student body as well.
Bagchi, Habib, Niehaus, Nath and Seldon constitute nearly one sixth of the 32 Americans who receive the award each year. To have a chance to win a Rhodes Scholarship, students must first submit an application and earn the endorsement of their universities, a step completed by 830 students in the United States this year. Following this step, applicants undergo interviews that help the Rhodes Trust to select its final set of winners.
Why should the vast majority of students, students who will never win a Rhodes scholarship, care who wins the award? It is not the award per se that most students should aspire to, but rather the type of accomplishment that the award recognizes. As Stanford’s Provost John Etchemendy told the Stanford Report, the award winners “all excel in areas of public service” and “are dedicating their academic careers to disciplines and interests that will make a positive difference for the world.” Moreover, other students should realize they have the same professors, study options and access to service and work opportunities that are available to the Rhodes scholars in their midst.
Though Stanford students share many common resources, there is no single or best path to the kind of academic career that can earn one a Rhodes Scholarship. The diversity of the award winners vividly demonstrates the ability of a dedicated student to make his or her mark regardless of background or field of study. Stanford’s winners have received or will receive their bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and history (Bagchi), biology (Habib), economics and earth systems (Nath), biomedical engineering (Niehaus) and comparative studies in race and ethnicity (Seldon). This year’s scholars all forged their own path towards the award, pursuing their own deeply held interests.
As an institution, Stanford should be very proud to host or have hosted five of this year’s Rhodes Scholars. What makes Stanford such a great place to study is the degree to which it assembles high-achieving individuals in one place where they can encourage, challenge and work with each other, as well as the degree to which Stanford affords opportunities for service and edifying work off campus. The presence of so many Rhodes Scholars serves as an excellent proxy for these effects and should be taken as affirmation that Stanford continues to function well.