Classics student, two alumni named Gates Cambridge Scholars

“McGill has been the perfect school for me," says graduating Classics student

On April 14, Neha Rahman, who is finishing her BA Honours in History and Classics; and alumni David Matyas (Law), and Klara Widrig: (Science) were named recipients of Gates Cambridge Scholarships to study at the University of Cambridge. The international postgraduate scholarship program was launched in 2000 with a $210 million donation to the University of Cambridge from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Neha Rahman will be pursuing a Masters in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge in September

When Neha Rahman arrived at McGill, she signed up for Intro to Ancient Greek “on a whim.”

“It was the most challenging course I’ve ever taken in my life,” she says in a phone interview with the Reporter. “I came to McGill because I had done well in high school. I was a good student.”

“Then this course comes along and ruins my life,” Rahman says with a laugh.

But, rather than ruin her life, that course set her on a path that, after earning her BA Honours in History and Classics next month, will take her to the University of Cambridge as a recipient of a prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

Embodying “excellence, global outlook and an aspiration to contribute to society”

Rahman, along with McGill alumni David Matyas (Law), and Klara Widrig: (Science) are among 77 scholars from 30 different countries who were named Gates Cambridge Scholars on April 14. The international postgraduate scholarship program was launched in 2000 with a $210 million donation to the University of Cambridge from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The Gates Cambridge Scholars are an outstanding group of people. They have not only demonstrated exceptional academic abilities in their fields, but have also shown a real commitment to engaging with the world – and to changing it for the better,” says Stephen Toope (BCL’83, LLB’83), the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and Chair of the Gates Cambridge Trustees. “They truly embody the values our University cherishes – excellence, a global outlook and an aspiration to contribute to society, values that are needed more than ever at this terrible time.”

Finding community, friendship and opportunity to grow

While Rahman admits to “struggling” in Intro to Ancient Greek, she persevered and, encouraged by her professor, actually went on to take the intermediate course.

More importantly, she found a place where she could thrive.

“McGill is such a big school and I was worried I would be overwhelmed when I first got here, that I wouldn’t make friends, that I would get lost in the system,” says Rahman. “Instead, I found Classics – this welcoming, strong, smart community made up of people who will be my lifelong friends.”

“It was a combination of finding something that really, truly challenged me but then also finding a community that supported me through that challenge.”

Rahman wasted little time in becoming a contributing member of the Classics community. She was elected VP Internal of the Classics Student’s Association (CSA) before serving as President for the past two years. She also was an editor of Hirundo: The McGill Undergraduate Classics Journal.

In 2018, Rahman put her knowledge of Ancient Greek to good work as co-director of the Classics play. Co-translated Euripides’ satyr play, The Cyclops, she organized and co-directed a production of the performance at Theatre Sainte-Catherine for a four-night run.

At Cambridge, Rahman will pursue a Masters of Philosophy, focussing on how young people were political catalysts in the Ancient Roman Republic and Empire.

Rahman credits her interest in youth issues in ancient cultures to the field work she did on an archeological dig in Southern Italy last summer led by Darian Totten and their subsequent tour of the Ara Pacis temple in Rome, where teens are represented participating prominently in society.

Meeting the challenge

Like the rest of the world, Rahman has been adapting to the restrictions imposed upon her by COVID-19 as she finishes her undergraduate degree. Final essays are being written remotely and submitted electronically.

So enamoured with the Classics community, Rahman says the suspension of on-campus activities has been “really tough.”

“Since I am graduating this year, I’ve had a lot of milestones postponed or cancelled, like Convocation,” she says. “There have been none of those final moments because everything ended so abruptly. Even saying goodbye to friends.”

Difficult as her final weeks at McGill have been, Rahman looks back at her time at the University with deep gratitude.

“I really appreciate all the support I got from my professors – some of the best professors ever,” says Rahman. “I also appreciate all the leadership opportunities that I was given at McGill. There were tons of opportunities for my voice to be heard and be in those decisive rooms. Being president of the CSA was a great experience because I sat in on department meetings, and developed relationships with professors in terms of mentorship… I think it has set me up really well for grad school.”

“At first it was so challenging when I got here, but I have grown and developed to meet those challenges,” she says. “McGill has been the perfect school for me.”