Rhodes Scholarship celebrates 100 years
Monday, 17 February 2003
Eighteen years has elapsed since Professor Peter Rathjen won a coveted Rhodes Scholarship to further his studies at Oxford University in England. But the experience is still fresh in the mind of the University of Adelaide's Executive Dean of the Faculty of Sciences.
Later this year, Professor Rathjen will recall the many memories when he returns to Oxford to celebrate the centenary of the scholarship and salute its founder, Cecil John Rhodes. The celebrations are from June 30 to July 5.
In what was his greatest legacy, the British-born Rhodes left three million pounds in his will for the creation of the Rhodes Scholarship - the first students entered Oxford in 1903, a year following his death.
In seeking leaders, Rhodes stated attributes should include literary and scholastic attainment, a fondness of and success in outdoor sports, qualities of truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, and no student to be disqualified on account of race or religious opinions.
"Being able to spend the formative years of your life with outstanding individuals from all corners of the globe and disparate areas of accomplishment is a significant benefit.
"The collegial nature of the Oxford system is conducive to the formation of close relationships and broadens students in a manner quite different from an Australian university. It is this aspect, I think, that fosters leadership development," Professor Rathjen says.
Armed with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree from the University of Adelaide, the 21-year-old Cambridge-born Rathjen began work on his PhD at New College, Oxford in 1985 under the supervision of Dr S.M. Kingsman.
In reflecting on the time he spent at Oxford, Professor Rathjen says winning the scholarship meant a significant amount at the time, and this increased as he became more familiar with its traditions and realities.
"What is foremost in my mind is the recognition of your predecessors as Rhodes Scholars. Many have gone on to spectacular and prestigious service in a variety of areas and it is somewhat awe inspiring to tread in their footsteps.
"I feel something similar as I prepare to return to England this year for the centenary celebrations," he says.
He says the scholarship provided so many exciting opportunities.
"The chance to immerse yourself in the rich culture, history and tradition of Europe at a time of your life when ideas are poorly developed, and the flexibility to travel. It is this aspect that leads to the broadening associated with the Rhodes Scholarship.
"Then there is the opportunity to interact regularly with leaders and future leaders from all walks of life at a social level, providing broad networks that can be enormously beneficial," he says.
Although there are other scholarships in the academic arena, Professor Rathjen believes the Rhodes Scholarship still holds the premier spot.
"The Rhodes Scholarship has retained its prestige, presumably because of the quality of individuals elected to the Scholarship, and their historical contributions to society," he says.
The University of Adelaide is fast approaching the 100-mark of Rhodes Scholars after Norman William Jolly in 1904 became the first to receive it. Over the years, many have made significant contributions to their respective communities and country.
Lord Howard Walter Florey, a Rhodes Scholar in 1921, heads the list. He became famous as the leader of the team of scientists, which isolated penicillin. He was knighted in 1944, shared the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1945 and created a life peer in 1965.
In 2002, the University of Adelaide had two Rhodes Scholars, Dr Thomas Smith and Ms Tamson Pietsch.
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