By Felicia Kitzmiller
Published: Saturday, November 10, 2012
There are about 200 finalists annually for the Rhodes Scholarship program, and this year two of them make their academic home at Wofford College.
Rachel Woodlee of Greer and Brian McCracken of Anderson are both finalists for the prestigious scholarship that targets future leaders for a cultural and academic experience at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
The finalists, who are selected on the basis of academic standing and character from a pool of more than 800 applicants from 300 American colleges and universities, will travel to St. Louis the weekend of Nov. 17 to be interviewed by representatives of the Rhodes Trust. Only 32 finalists, two from 16 geographical regions across the United States, will be selected for the coveted scholarship.
The application for the Rhodes Scholarship requires candidates to express how they will use the scholarship to change the world. It has been awarded to people with a profound impact on the course of world events, including former President Bill Clinton, retired four-star general Wesley Clark, presidential adviser and U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, former Secretary of State Dean Rusk and former Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
“My mother and I have this joke that to be a Rhodes scholar you have to be Mother Teresa, but play sports,” Woodlee said.
Woodlee and McCracken are both seniors at Wofford with extensive athletic and academic resumes. Woodlee is a volleyball player, and McCracken participates in track and field. Woodlee was also a varsity basketball player in high school.
Woodlee is majoring in business economics and Chinese. She is a former Palmetto Fellow, a member of the academic honors society fraternity Phi Beta Kappa and was an AP Scholar with distinction. She has studied in China, Peru and India, and she will study in Belize in January.
“I think I have an interesting mix of stubbornness and perfectionism,” Woodlee said of what motivates her. “Once I’ve decided I’m interested in something, that’s it, I do it.”
When she decided to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship at the advice of a professor, she spent two months crafting her personal statement.
“I completely scrapped it twice and rewrote it eight or ten times,” she said.
McCracken is a double major in government and economics with a minor in religion. He was sitting in an Internet café in Cape Town, South Africa, when he learned of his finalist status.
“Upon receiving the email, I was incredibly excited and actually drew a few glances from the other customers in the café, especially when I threw my arms up in the air and yelled ‘Yes!’” he wrote in an email interview.
McCracken is in South Africa doing an independent study project as the recipient of the Wofford Presidential Scholarship for 2012. He will have to interrupt his work to return to the U.S. for his Rhodes Scholarship interview.
A fear of missing out and not accomplishing everything possible is what McCracken said motivates him toward success academically and personally.
“I initially applied to the Rhodes simply because I knew it was one of the most prestigious scholarships a student could ever obtain,” he wrote. “I’ve become more driven by the fact that I could really do something with an award of this caliber. I am driven by the idea of making a truly positive impact on the world and its inhabitants.”
Woodlee has become fascinated by China. She said she wants to make a career of educating Americans about the intricacies of the country many political scientists have said will be a force in the future of the world.
“In our current relationship with China, there’s a lot of cultural, not ignorance, but misunderstanding,” she said.
Her goal is to work from a policy position to influence the academic community to focus more on China in college and university education.
McCracken said he hopes to work for a nongovernment organization as an attorney specializing in human rights and international law with a focus on Africa.
Both students said the education they received at Wofford opened their minds to the world and allowed them to access the full reaches of their possibility. They also said the assistance from Wofford faculty and staff made their successful applications to the Rhodes Scholarship program possible.
“I have the opportunities I have today, and I have to tools to use those opportunities, because of Wofford,” Woodlee said.
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