by Deborah Notis
Chappaqua is home to many famous residents. Within our diversely talented community, a select few have the unique distinction of achieving the most prestigious academic honor available; that of becoming a Rhodes Scholar.
The Rhodes Scholarship is the world’s oldest fellowship program. British-born financier and Oxford University graduate, Cecil B. Rhodes established this scholarship in 1902 to try to bring a more diverse student body to Oxford University. Rhodes encouraged students to interact with a varied international student body to promote greater understanding of different cultures, and ultimately world peace. Every year since 1904, approximately 32 students in the United States earn a Rhodes Scholarship, giving them the unique opportunity to spend two or three years studying at Oxford University with an elite group of academics from around the world.
To become a Rhodes Scholar, a student must be endorsed by his or her university and submit to a rigorous screening process, including multiple interviews. The final 32 scholars are chosen for more than their outstanding academic achievements. They must possess a high level of integrity, illustrate a potential for leadership roles in their careers, and commit to bettering the world. “My sort of guiding utopian personal goal is to somehow, in whatever way I can, use what I’ve been lucky enough to have been given to help make the world a fairer, kinder, gentler place,”states Greeley class of 2008 and Harvard class of 2012 graduate, Brett Rosenberg, a current Rhodes Scholar who is pursuing her Ph.D in International Relations.
Rosenberg majored in history at Harvard, focusing on the political and intellectual impact of the Cold War. Her studies at Oxford concern different understandings of American identity and how they affect U.S. foreign policy. Her interest in history started at Greeley, and Rosenberg credits her Greeley history teacher and cross-country coach, Mr. Houser, with influencing her academic path. “I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I ended up majoring in history and running two marathons.” She is on target to finish her Ph.D at Oxford in 2016.
Rosenberg was quite accomplished before her journey to Oxford. At Harvard, she was an editorial columnist for the Harvard Crimson. She wrote for The New York Times and Harvard Magazine, worked as an editor for Tuesday Magazine, and worked as a research assistant to Professor Niall Fergusson. In her spare time, Rosenberg was a peer advisor and a member of Harvard’s Kuumbu Singers. But Rosenberg, who seamlessly blends her obvious intellect with a charming sense of humor, jokes that “the number of waffles I consumed at the Mount Kisco Diner” counts as one of her greatest achievements while growing up in Chappaqua.
While Rosenberg credits her parents with encouraging her to pursue this unique opportunity to study and travel abroad, she knows they look forward to having her back in the U.S. “I love living in the UK and eating my fill of mushy peas,” says Rosenberg. “But I’m looking forward to be able to be at birthdays and weddings in person…I sent a cardboard cutout of my face to attend a friend’s wedding a few months ago. Flat Brett was a big hit, I hear.”
Matthew Townsend, a 2011 Greeley graduate and Yale student, shares Rosenberg’s drive to better the world. “My goal is to address health inequalities, which is a big way that general inequality is perpetuated in the world.” When Townsend arrives at Oxford next fall, he plans to pursue a M.Sc in Medical Anthropology, focusing on the socio-cultural and environmental factors that influence health, and either a D.Phil in Anthropology or a Masters in Public Policy.
Before starting at Yale, Townsend left an indelible impression in Chappaqua. He was an academic powerhouse and basketball superstar who started the annual Horace Greeley Scholarship Fund Spelling Bee. He credits his family, his coaches, and his teachers for supporting him as he achieved milestones. In particular, he mentions that Dr. Prignano’s energetic teaching style motivated him to pursue a career in the sciences. And, he emphasizes that his basketball trainer, John Goldman, “not only trained me to be a Division I basketball player but also gave me so much other advice, from relationships to the importance of a firm handshake.”
Townsend, who is known at Yale for his talent on the basketball court as well as his superior intellect, is a Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology major. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, while still finding time to be a two-year starter on the Yale Varsity basketball team and co-coordinator of the Yale Homeless and Hunger Action Project. His interest in the social science side of health and medicine motivated him to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship. The opportunity to study at Oxford was particularly attractive. “Going to Yale was one of the best decisions I ever made, but it was important for me to live somewhere outside of the northeast at some point in my life.”
After he completes his multiple degrees at Oxford, he will return to the northeast to attend Harvard Medical School. “I always knew I wanted to be a doctor…I’m drawn to obesity and diabetes because they are big issues in the world with biological, environmental, and economic roots. It’s a field that needs research and a push for public policy change.” He knows that he has many years of studying ahead of him, but he is enjoying every moment. “The most valuable part of the application process was all of the people I talked to along the way–mentors, other Rhodes finalists, interviewers–and I am thrilled to continue those stimulating conversations at Oxford.”
Chappaqua resident Don Hawthorne was quite ecstatic about the people he met when he became a Rhodes Scholar in 1982. “I met the most brilliant, challenging, attractive person I had ever seen…yes, I am talking about my wife,” says Hawthorne who started dating his wife Francine Kellner when they were studying at Oxford. As a Rhodes Scholar, he made lifelong friends and broadened his perspective of the world.
Hawthorne, a Princeton graduate who originally aspired to be an academic, applied for a Rhodes Scholarship “to pursue more academics, and because I was a bit of an Anglophile (my dad was English).” At Oxford, he received a D.Phil in Philosophy, writing a thesis about the aesthetics of 1960’s abstract art. This was the natural progression of his history and philosophy studies at Princeton. Ultimately, Hawthorne chose to pursue a career in the law, a career that “challenges me everyday.”
“I have no idea why others thought I had any right to the scholarship, but I am incredibly grateful that they did,” states Hawthorne, whose mother’s kindness and his father’s honesty and Midwestern values always inspired him. Hawthorne counts philosopher Richard Rorty and art historian Sam Hunter as his key mentors in college and further and further emphasizes that both “combined brilliance with deep humanity.”
After growing up in Lakeland, Ohio, travelling the world as a Rhodes Scholar, and studying law at Yale, Hawthorne and his family settled in Chappaqua. “We loved the beautiful, woodsy feel of Chappaqua,” notes Hawthorne, who wanted to raise children in a friendly, open-minded town that had top-notch public schools. It looks like Chappaqua was a perfect place for him to continue his journey.
Joining Hawthorne on that journey is his wife, Francine Kellner. Kellner, a Bowdoin graduate from Highland Park, Illinois, says that “living and studying in Oxford for three years fundamentally influenced the way I think about almost everything. But first and foremost, I met my wonderful husband there!”
Kellner, a history and economics major at Bowdoin, knew she wanted to study law. “I was applying to law school but hoping to study abroad first,” says Kellner. It was her mentor, Roger Howell, a historian, former President of Bowdoin College, and Rhodes Scholar, who encouraged her to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship. At Oxford, Kellner received a Masters in History of the British Commonwealth and Empire.
Kellner valued the opportunity to travel through Europe, North Africa, Southeast Asia, and China while studying at Oxford. Her adventures “opened my eyes to different cultures…It influenced my political views and interests and made me a more open-minded person. It deeply affected how I raise my kids.” When she returned to the U.S., she attended Yale Law School.
Kellner, who practiced international law in Manhattan, loves the close-knit community in Chappaqua. “It is wonderful to be part of a vibrant population that puts so much positive energy and work into shared values.” Kellner, one of the founding board members of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Fair, appreciates Chappaqua’s passion and respect for “education, intellectual life, diversity, and tolerance.”
These values were emphasized by her parents and learned throughout her time at Oxford, where she also “learned how to make a really good cup of tea.” Kellner stopped practicing law in 2007. Now she says, “I am not sure what comes next, but I am just about ready for the next phase.”
Of course, Chappaqua’s most famous Rhodes Scholar is former president, Bill Clinton. President Clinton was selected to receive the coveted Rhodes Scholarship in 1968. While he pursued a B.Phil degree in politics, he never completed his degree. However, President Clinton left quite an impression on his fellow Rhodes Scholars, developing key relationships that would follow him into his presidency. It was during his years at Oxford that he met his administration’s future Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich and his future Ambassador-at-Large and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State, Nelson “Strobe” Talbott III.
Ultimately, whether they are leading the free world or litigating cases in Manhattan, Chappaqua’s Rhodes Scholars feel lucky to live here. “Chappaqua is a wonderful place to grow up, from its public schools to its beautiful scenery…I was afforded advantages that don’t exist in most places,” states Rosenberg. Townsend agrees; “I was extremely fortunate to grow up in Chappaqua with a loving family and abundant opportunities. Not everyone has the same resources.” Fortunately, these community members are using what they’ve learned as a Rhodes Scholar to help make our world a better place.
Deborah Raider Notis is co-owner of gamechanger, LLC. She lives in Pleasantville with her husband and their four boys.