CHICAGO – A translator for Guantanamo Bay detainees, a boxer from the Bronx and an ultimate Frisbee player were among 32 Americans selected as Rhodes Scholars for 2008, the scholarship trust announced Sunday.
Winners were chosen in a tough selection process from among 764 applicants for the coveted, more than century-old scholarship, whose past recipients include former President Bill Clinton.
"I was actually shocked," said Isra Bhatty, 23, of Glenview, about receiving a call Saturday telling her she was among this year's winners. "I was really thankful and a little overwhelmed."
Bhatty was one of three winners who attended or graduated from the University of Chicago.
Another winner said Sunday she was also still reeling.
"I have to remind myself that it's real because it was quite a surprise," said Rebecca Brubaker, 23, of Kimberton, Pa.
The scholarships, the oldest international study award available to American students, provide two or three years of study at Oxford University in England; winners will begin their studies next October.
Many of the winners stand out, not only for their academic prowess, but also for their achievements outside academia -- in sports, in the military or as volunteers.
Bhatty, a University of Chicago graduate and now a law student at Yale University, is a sometime poet and hip-hop artist. She also serves as an English-Urdu translator for detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; she does that work via telephone.
Winner Reed Doucette is a senior at the University of Southern California and was on the basketball team that made it to the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen last season; another recipient, New York native Adam M. Levine, is an accomplished light heavyweight boxer.
To say the members of the latest batch of Rhodes Scholars are multitalented is an understatement.
Nadine S. Levin, for example, is a concert violinist, researcher of an experimental vaccine for bubonic plague. But the Washington, D.C., native and senior at the University of Chicago is also a nationally competitive ultimate Frisbee player.
Todd R. Gingrich, a 22-year-old chemistry major at the California Institute of Technology, said he found the interview process intense -- he was asked to talk about his own research area, solar cells and semiconductor technology, as well as the nation's energy policy.
"It was a pretty rigorous interview," said Gingrich, of Columbia, Mo.
Other past Rhodes Scholars include U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, singer Kris Kristofferson, former presidential candidates Bill Bradley and Wesley Clark.
Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.
The American students will join an international group of scholars selected from 13 other jurisdictions around the world. Approximately 85 scholars are selected each year.
The value of the Rhodes Scholarship varies depending on the field of study. The total value averages about $45,000 per year.
With the elections announced Sunday, 3,142 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 307 colleges and universities.
Despite Bhatty's accomplishments, her mother said she took a moment to pray before this year's awards were announced.
"Lots of people work so hard for different things, but achieving the goal is a special blessing from God," Shaheen Bhatty said.