Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Marshall and Rhodes: Building Relationships

This holiday season, many people seem to be welcoming the end of the year more than the beginning of a new one.

After all, 2016 took David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Anton Yelchin, and Prince. As if that weren't enough, Ron Glass - the much loved Shepherd Book from Joss Whedon's "Firefly" - passed away the day after Thanksgiving.

Then, of course, there's the outcome of certain votes in the UK and the US - to say nothing of various political upheaval and pain in other parts of the world.

As a viral Tweet so eloquently asked: "Has anyone tried unplugging 2016, waiting for ten seconds, and turning it on again?"

We're struggling, friends. We're struggling. And many of us are rather worried 2017 is set to be worse.

But it's Christmas. And Christmas means hope.

The world, at times, seems a mess. As a species, we're awfully good at screwing up. And yet...we're also the species that birthed Shakespeare, that landed on the moon, that cries when a kitten is hurt. We are capable of being open-handed, heart-warming, awe-inspiring. We just have to remember it.

In a time when insularity seems to be synonymous with security in many people's minds, relationships are more important than ever.

My current work as a PhD Scholar at King's College London is the product of one such relationship - one between the UK and the US that goes back to the world's struggle to recover from World War II (another set of years that likely felt broken and, at times, hopeless). In 1953, the Marshall Aid Commemoration Act was passed, establishing a scholarship for young Americans to pursue postgraduate study in the United Kingdom. Today's Marshall Scholarship community includes Supreme Court Justices, a Nobel Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners, Oscar nominees, and NASA's youngest astronaut.

Beyond - and more important than - the prestige, the Marshall Scholarship is about making the world a bigger yet tighter community. It is about Americans meeting other people, seeing new sights, comprehending the complexity of our world. It is about relationships.

2016 seems broken? A few good things have happened lately that are going to help fix it.

This Monday, Alok Sharma (the United Kingdom's Foreign Office Minister) announced a 25% increase in the number of Marshall Scholarships offered for 2017. In September, I'm getting forty (rather than the usual thirty-ish) new friends as the Marshall Scholar Class of 2017 begins their tenure. I am hopeful that this increased number of Scholarships will help bolster the Commission's ongoing efforts to empower underrepresented communities, widening participation and improving diversity in academia and politics.

On that note: a few weeks ago, the Rhodes Trust announced its expansion to underrepresented countries in the Middle East. My beloved friend and AMENDS Colleague, Hashem Abu Sham'a, has been named Palestine's first Rhodes Scholar. Hashem will join the University of Oxford in September 2017 to continue his battle for peace and justice in the world.

And there, my friends, you have it. 2016 wasn't all bad. So long as we can continue to invest in relationships and value collaboration, focusing on our shared humanity and seeking new things to discover and create, I have faith in us.

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