“I think it’s fair to say it changed my life,” says A.E. Dick Howard, R’54, the first Richmond alumnus to win one.
Howard entered the Rhodes program in 1958, while a law student at the University of Virginia. After Oxford, he returned to Charlottesville to finish his law degree. He worked for a Washington, D.C., law firm and clerked for Justice Hugo Black of the U.S. Supreme Court before returning to teach at Virginia. In 1994, Washingtonian magazine called Howard “one of the most respected educators in the nation.” He is more widely acclaimed, however, for helping emerging democracies write or rewrite their constitutions.
Much of what Howard has accomplished can be traced to his Rhodes experience, which he calls “one of those rare moments when one sees horizons that one never knew existed.” He was tutored by some of the great minds of Oxford. He traveled throughout Europe and into the Middle East and Africa, and he made lifelong friendships with classmates who became leaders in their fields.
“I can’t think of any two years of my life that were more transformative,” Howard says of his time at Oxford. “It’s a magical place.”
The Rhodes Scholarship was established in 1902 by Cecil Rhodes, an English-born diamond magnate who wanted to promote international understanding and peace by sending future leaders to Oxford.
According to The Rhodes Trust, candidates are chosen based on academic achievement, integrity, unselfishness, respect for others, leadership potential and physical vigor. The scholars, Rhodes wrote, should “esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim.”
Thirty-two Rhodes Scholars are selected in the United States each year plus 85 from other countries. Regional committees pare the list of candidates and invite finalists for personal interviews.
During the application process, Erwin met with Dr. Terryl L. Givens, professor of English, who serves as the University’s Rhodes advisor. Givens oversees the University’s selection of candidates and shepherds them through the process. He helps them develop their personal, written statements and then conducts practice interviews.
“A student of [Scott’s] quality doesn’t need window dressing,” Givens says, “but at this level of competition, his performance in an interview has to be nearly flawless.”
Givens says Erwin’s distinguishing characteristic in a field of high achievers is “the sense he conveys that his striving to make an impact in the world is both unselfish and authentic. He never set out to pad a resume. He just lives out a deeply held, service-oriented ethos.”
Erwin’s selection reflects well on the entire University, Givens says, “since Scott is representative of the institution that helped shape him.”
Howard readily agrees. “There are certain benchmarks by which you measure a university’s aspirations, and one of those obviously is the Rhodes Scholarship,” he says. “It’s time that it happened, and I hope there will be more. … The University of Richmond certainly has the talent.”
Bill Lohmann, ’79