Earlhamite selected for prestigious Rhodes Scholarship in historic launch of Middle East program | Earlham College
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Earlhamite selected for prestigious Rhodes Scholarship in historic launch of Middle East program

November 24, 2016

Hashem Abu Sham'a ’17 has been selected as one of just three Rhodes Scholars by the Rhodes Trust for its inaugural Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine program.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen on the basis of exceptional intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service. Notable luminaries who have received the Rhodes include former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, former U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, philosopher Naomi Wolf, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker; and Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Feed The Children.

The scholarship will support his admission to the University of Oxford where he plans to pursue two Master’s degrees: one in Global Governance and Diplomacy, and the second in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies.

“When I told my parents that I might have a chance to go to Oxford, they were almost in tears,” says Abu Sham'a, who grew up in the Palestinian refugee camp of Arroub.

“Many parents outside the U.S. know Harvard and Oxford by name,” he says. “To think I would make it from my refugee camp to Oxford is truly incredible.” 

The Rhodes is one the most prestigious academic awards in the English-speaking world, and one that broadened its reach in recent decades. At its founding in 1902, the award was only open to men from the British colonies, Germany and the United States. The program began including women in 1978. The addition of scholars from the Middle East marks an important broadening of the program’s reach.

Abu Sham'a is the third Earlhamite to receive the prestigious scholarship and one of two from the State of Palestine selected for the award. George E. Hamilton, Class of 1905, and Joseph Clyde Little, Class of 1917, also received the scholarship.

“Hashem is like so many of Earlham's students, who are very bright, very active, and very concerned with the world around us,” Academic Dean Greg Mahler says. “He has been a real leader on campus, and in my eyes is exactly the kind of student that the Rhodes Scholarship is seeking to recognize. 

“He is clearly someone who is going to continue to be a leader in life,” he says. “We at Earlham are delighted that his skills and his accomplishments have been recognized, and we wish him the very best as he moves forward in life.”

A Peace and Global Studies (PAGS) major and Economics minor at Earlham, Abu Sham'a has devoted his early adult life spreading awareness about the struggles of Palestinians. His dream is to establish community outreach centers whose focus is on political education at refugee camps like the one he grew up in. He also plans on establishing youth empowerment boards that would unite refugees across the Middle East.

But it wasn’t his initial career path.

After earning a 98.8 percent on the Palestinian high school national exam, Abu Sham'a reached near hero status in his refugee camp, and felt destined to become a doctor. But his interest shifted when he was selected to participate in Seeds of Peace, one of the most recognized peace-building initiatives in the world. (Bobbie Gottschalk ’64 co-founded Seeds of Peace in 1993 and was named its first executive director.)

Abu sham'a’s passion for public service and advocacy continued to grow after he participated in additional Seeds for Peace initiatives and after he enrolled at Earlham. During his sophomore year, he became president of Student Organization Council, and, in his junior year, his peers elected him co-president of Earlham Student Government.

“These two experiences helped shape me as a student leader on campus,” he says. “I also think the support I received from my professors was critical. I came here with good English skills, but my writing skills were not as good as they are now. Furthermore, my professors helped me build an approach to life that is both critical and hopeful.”

Later in his junior year on campus, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) invited Abu sham'a to represent Palestine in a youth forum, which focused on issues of sustainable development and global youth issues. The invitation was significant because Palestine was admitted to the UN in 2012 as a non-member observer state. During the forum, Abu sham'a became the first youth representative of the State of Palestine to address the UN.

That experience was also a catalyst for an invitation to speak at a conference at Cornell University about livelihood strategies for refugees in the Middle East.

“What in my view makes Hashem a very strong candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship, is his passion for seeing that what one learns in the academy is inextricably tied to bettering the lives of everyday people who lament and celebrate life from the margins of human societies,” says James Logan, one of Abu sham'a’s faculty mentors who is a professor and director of Earlham’s African and African American Studies program.

“Not only does Hashem embody the dynamics of lament and the celebration of life with his mind, he also embodies these dynamics with his laughter, his passion, his dance, his joy, and his tears, indeed his mutually venerable and covenanting presence in his all-round associations with others.”

Joanna Swanger, Abu Sham'a's academic adviser in PAGS, and another of his mentors for the Rhodes, adds: "In his commitment to the intellectual project, Hashem reminds me of an earlier generation of students who had no Internet and therefore spent their time outside of the classroom talking about ideas and working through texts together, not as something burdensome, but as something stimulating and enjoyable.

"Indeed, he is a young intellectual, and is not afraid to embrace this identity," she says. "When in Latin American history class we read the works of José Martí, the great Cuban intellectual and founder of the Cuban independence movement, I could see how deeply Martí’s works resonated with him, as someone who, like Hashem, was forced into a kind of exile but whose love for the home from which he had been exiled drove all of his work, as well as his compassion for humanity at large. He is always seeking to make connections between all the theory and history we read in PAGS, and the current struggles for justice in which he is involved. It has been a true honor and inspiration to get to work with such an amazing student."

Abu Sham'a says studying at Oxford represents an opportunity to further the global network he has been building since arriving at Earlham while joining an academic community known for its political debates and extensive academic library.

“From my refugee camp, Arroub, to Earlham to Oxford and every place in between and beyond, I have been blessed with people who have helped shape who I am,” he says. “As I get ready to embark on this journey, I remember my community, and former Rhodes Scholars, including the first-ever African American Rhodes Scholar Alain LeRoy Locke, who have broken enough ceilings to make it possible for me to become a Rhodes Scholar. And I hope that I will continue this legacy of breaking through ceilings so that kids in my refugee camp and beyond are empowered.”

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

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