Since Wabash College's founding in 1832, the College has been proud to graduate eight Rhodes Scholars. Jacob Burnett '15 will become the ninth in May.
Burnett, a native of Mishawaka, IN., learned yesterday he was one of 32 students in the nation to be named a Rhodes. He will work toward his master's degree at Oxford in the fall of 2015. The 32 winners are selected from a pool of 877 candidates.
"It feels amazing," the Wabash senior said after just learning of the honor. "It's the first time in my life I've ever been speechless."
Burnett participated in finalist interview, held across the nation, with 12 others in the Indianapolis law office of Faegre Baker Daniels. Alex Coccia, Notre Dame, was the other winner from the region.
"When you think about winning, the odds are so crazy," Burnett said. "Without the support of some people you don’t even want to apply. You go to the reception, you're in a room with some of most accomplished people in the country, and you wonder, 'Why would they ever choose me?'"
"Jacob is a wonderful Wabash story," said Wabash President Gregory Hess. "He is a passionate, articulate, and thoughtful young man, who lives out our mission to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely. The recognition he receives through this award speaks to all that we do to provide a liberal arts arts education for our young men."
Burnett had plenty of support from Wabash College. He'll pursue a master's in Criminology and Criminal Justice. The Rhodes Trust provides funds to cover the Scholars' education costs.
"He’s a classic Rhodes story, drawing on his own background to forge a deep social commitment to justice," said Professor of History Dr. Stephen Morillo, also a Rhodes Scholar. "Jacob's academic excellence and his passion made for an unstoppable combination.
"He’s also a classic Wabash story: this place has fostered his talents as few places could have, and everyone who’s had a hand in his education here — professors and students alike (we learn from our peers!) — should be proud."
Burnett, speaking by phone from the Indy law office, believed it was his passion and personal background that set him apart. He shared his summer activities, but believed his background was what gave him the nod. "They look at people not just for what they've done but what they can do with the scholarship. It was a lot about growing up in tough circumstances, a single mother, and moving around a lot. We also talked a lot about my passion."
Graduate Fellowship Advisor Susan Albrecht was thrilled. "Not simply because he is a Wabash man but because I believe in my heart that Jacob is the kind of individual who deserves this kind of acknowledgment and opportunity," Albrecht said. "Not only has he worked incredibly hard, he has worked hard for others and will continue to do so. He is motivated by an exceptionally deep-seated empathy and a desire to use his intellect, insight, passion and drive to work with those who are disenfranchised, underrepresented, powerless, and discriminated against, in order to better their lives."
Burnett has been active at Wabash through Moot Court, pre-law, and The Bachelor. He has a widely defined goal to pursue the law to help others.
"I want to fundamentally change the concept of justice in our society," he said. "I want to make change through attorneys working on cases, working on legislative policy and helping other countries build their justice system. I want to impact people and the framework they're working in."
Burnett is the first Wabash Rhodes Scholar since Jeremy Robinson '04 won in 2005.
Over the last two years, Wabash has produced six Fulbright recipients and a Rhodes Scholar, another good indicator of the high caliber of the student body.
“I would like to think that having six Fulbright recipients and a Rhodes Scholar in the past two years would signal to other Wabash students that our brightest and best scholars are true scholars – talented individuals with tremendous gifts to offer – who compete with anyone,” said Albrecht. “My hope is that more of our young men will realize this and put forth their own candidacy for a Fulbright or other major fellowship.”