When Mubeen Shakir was awarded the Rhodes scholarship Nov. 17, he did what most college students do when they accomplish something great — he called his mom. But there was one other person he wished he could have shared the good news with — his father, who passed away a year and a half ago.
For Shakir, the son of two immigrants, the prestigious award is the fulfillment of their dreams for Shakir when they moved to America in the early 1970s.
“Their purpose in coming here was for their children to experience the best education possible and to experience the most opportunities as possible, the things they didn’t have the chance to do,” the University of Oklahoma senior said.
“I didn’t just owe it to myself, I owed it to my family to try my hardest in things,” he said. “For me, this is something that he and Mom had always wanted for us, to achieve at the highest level. That was the first thing I thought of after winning.”
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma, Shakir will follow in the footsteps of his three older brothers, who are all in the medical field. With full tuition and fees provided by the Rhodes, Shakir will pursue a master’s degree in immunology at the University of Oxford.
As one of 83 members of the Rhodes Scholar Class of 2013, Shakir hopes to seize the wealth of opportunities that await him at Oxford, which include building new relationships with his fellow students and forming a solid group of friends.
In Shakir’s eyes, without the support of his friends and elders, he wouldn’t be able to call himself a Rhodes scholar.
“I didn’t do this on my own. I had family, friends, professors and mentors, and I just did my part. But without everyone else, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “This isn’t really my accomplishment. This is everyone else’s, too.”
Rhodes scholar Joe Riley.
“To him whom much is given…”
Joe Riley, a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia, will join Shakir at Oxford this fall.
As a first-year student, Riley was encouraged by his ROTC commander to look into fellowships such as the Truman Scholarship for college juniors. Winning the Truman, he went on to apply for the Rhodes.
After crafting a 1,000-word personal statement, sending it through 27 rounds of editing, and submitting nine letters of recommendation, he earned a finalist spot.
“For the next three weeks, it was about interview prep, reading every magazine and newspaper you could get your hands on,” Riley said.
When Riley arrived in Birmingham, Ala., for his final interview, he was met with the opportunity to look toward his future and reconnect with his childhood. His interview was held just two miles away from where he was born.
The weekend of the interview, Riley and his family visited his childhood home. And after winning the Rhodes, Riley described that visit as “perhaps more surreal than anything else.”
“It was very special for me and my family to be there and go back to the apartment where I grew up as a little kid,” he said.
Riley’s accomplishments are diverse. He’s done everything from conducting field research on Chinese mineral extraction industries in Africa, to traveling in China, Thailand and Vietnam, to earning the ranking of one of the top-10 Army cadets in the national ROTC. After he won the Rhodes, he returned home to Athens, Tenn., and was glad to have everything put in perspective.
“It was good to go home, to not forget where you came from and what’s important,” he said. “The people who I’ve known, my good friends, they don’t change the way they treat me.”
The way others treat Riley has changed in certain respects, particularly during the rush period for his fraternity.
“During rush we’ll have first-years come out, and they’ve read a news story about me, and it’s just funny,” he said. “It’s odd for me because I tell people I’m just a good ol’ country boy, and I still wear my camo and jeans and cowboy boots everywhere.”
After graduating, Riley will pursue an M.Phil. in international relations at Oxford. He’ll then return to the Army and be an infantry officer for four to five years. After that, he might teach at West Point or delve into a different endeavor.
But no matter what his future holds, Riley said he strives to always bear in mind the message of Luke 12:48: To him whom much is given, much is required.
“The one thing I tell people to keep in mind is I’ve been given a great blessing,” he said. “I’ve been given a lot and there’s others who haven’t been given as much, and you’ve got to take those opportunities.”
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