Rhodes Scholarship Personal Statement - Auburn Student

Young, fragile Sweya stared with an intensity that struck my core. I held her on my lap as I taught her how to administer eye drops to protect her good eye. Her left eye was blinded by trauma that occurred before eye doctors were available at her refugee camp in Ghana. After a full examination by the Unite for Sight doctors, it was concluded that Sweya’s injury was permanent. I did not want to let Sweya go. While she had accepted the conclusion, for a moment I still struggled with a feeling of anguish. Modern medicine had failed Sweya. The reality of the moment returned and I let her go. She quickly disappeared into the milieu of the camp, but she will never disappear from my memory.

Failure is no stranger to the practice of medicine. If an architect builds a bridge and that bridge collapses, it is relatively easy to determine the cause. It was designed by humans. If a patient is in poor health, however, the cause is not as easy to discern. The reason lies in Aristotle’s description of the practice of medicine as a “stochastic” art. A stochastic art is compatible with failure because, unlike architecture, the part or structure in question was not built by the party charged with finding a cause or remedy. Doctors have the task of fixing things that are not of their own making and are unknown concretely. Research is the most effective tool to break these barriers; we recognize our shortcomings and in the spirit of human ingenuity, inquire into and innovate.

As a prospective physician, I propose to pursue my MSC by Research in Ophthalmology at Oxford University. I wish to attend Oxford because it presents an opportunity to participate in cutting-edge learning; arguably, it would expose me to the best collection of scholars in the world, and a student-body and cross-cultural environment unmatched by any institution.

Although I am accustomed to the excitement of competing gymnastics in front of thousands of fans, I am stoic and contemplative. My mind loves to quietly wander, study, and find solutions. I have indulged my desire to learn and question my surrounding by involvement in research. I have conducted research directed by Professor Michael Squillacote on the photochemistry of the visual system. Research in ophthalmology at Oxford will help me expand upon my knowledge of vision at the photochemical level to a more holistic view.

The diverse student body and Oxford University also provides an opportunity for cultural immersion. Last summer, I studied Spanish abroad in Spain and volunteered for the nonprofit organization Unite for Sight in Accra, Ghana. My incredible experiences traveling to these countries have taught me how to adapt quickly and have inspired me to step out into the world. Oxford presents the opportunity to be active in research and high level learning while experiencing a new culture. This opportunity is unique, much like my life as a collegiate gymnast.

At a very young age, I fell in love with flipping and decided I wanted to be a great gymnast. At age 12, I trained 32 hours per week. At 14, I was partially home-schooled and I qualified Elite—the highest level of gymnastics. Soon thereafter, I smashed my face into the vaulting apparatus, broke my nose, and required 14 stitches to close the gash on my forehead. I developed fears and struggled to regain the passion I had as a youth. I fell and failed repeatedly, but I did not give up. I recovered my passion and qualified for the Junior Olympic National Team. I then accepted a full-athletic scholarship to Auburn University. At Auburn, my dedication to athletics strengthened my commitment to academics and all aspects of my life. My freshman year, I crashed twice on the balance beam in front of 10,000 fans at the University of Georgia, a team Auburn had never beaten. As it turned out, I had mononucleosis and strep throat. This disappointment and failure was one of the most defining times of my life. I realized that when I face adversity, I am strengthened, empowered, and revealed in my struggle.

Everyone hits highs and lows, but not everyone gets up quickly: some not at all. I do not consider myself a quitter. During my senior year, my team performed the unexpected: for the first time, we defeated the famed University of Georgia Gymnastics Team, the five-time reigning National Champions. Athletics have rewarded me with an understanding of hard work and taught me that almost anything can be accomplished when I commit wholeheartedly.

In Ghana, I helped provide eye care to some of the world’s poorest people. I witnessed the impact and felt the frustrations of blindness. These men, women and children were the most genuine, sincere, and persevering individuals I have met. I am inspired by them and uplifted by their inner strength. I am committing my life to the practice of medicine for people in dark moments like these. I especially wish to pursue ophthalmology because I have seen the expression of individuals with restored vision--the flicker of the eye and smile. Restored vision is a miracle born of research.

Sweya is still in Ghana, blind in one eye. I think of her often. We are not the architects of Sweya’s eye, but perhaps someday research will provide a remedy for the injury suffered by Sweya. One defining, core characteristic of researchers is that they never stop trying. I have, and have consistently, committed myself to that ideal. If awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, I would use the education and experience that I gained during my study to directly impact the lives of others, like Sweya positively. The opportunity for me to pursue a MSc by Research in Ophthalmology would be an immeasurable blessing and gift from Cecil Rhodes and The Rhodes Trust, I would only hope to repay this debt through my own service to those less fortunate.

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Last Updated: January 15, 2014

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