By McGill Reporter staff
Suzy Newing is sounding breathless. And a little zingy, but in a very good way. McGill’s 136th Rhodes Scholar is clearly still a bit in shock. “They called me on Saturday evening at around 5:30 and I couldn’t believe it because I had just had the interview that afternoon.”
Initially Newing had been hesitant about applying for the prestigious award, which generally covers the cost of two years of post-graduate studies at Oxford. But after looking into the criteria for the scholarship, Newing, who describes herself as always having been driven to excel, began to rethink her decision. “To apply for a Rhodes Scholarship, you have to talk about yourself in terms of leadership, courage and empathy for others, as well as about wanting to make change in the world, and as I was reading down the list I started to think to myself, ‘hey, these are real values in my life.’ ”
Newing is in the final year of an Arts BA doing an Honours degree in International Development Studies, with a Minor in African Studies. Her interest in Africa is hardly surprising since she has spent the past three summers and part of a gap year between CEGEP and university working in Ethiopia with Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), an NGO founded by her mother in 2002. “When people think of Ethiopia, they often talk about the poverty. But what I saw was an alternate reality, an amazing culture and wonderful people and a country that is full of hope and promise,” Newing said.
Over the past three summers, Newing has worked with DOT in Ethiopia on projects designed to transform young people into leaders. But that’s not all she’s been doing. Since starting at McGill three years ago, Newing has also been involved with SAMA, the Student Association for Medical Aid, which was founded by McGill medical students to raise funds for projects in the developing world. Working with an Ethiopian Medical Student’s Association, SAMA has been helping to improve the health of poor children on the streets of Addis Ababa.
Given this range of experience, finding one’s way in the world might be a bit overwhelming. But when Newing, who also sails competitively and has an interest in African arts, history and culture, stopped to ask herself what motivated her, and what she really wanted to do with her life, the answer was very clear.
“I figured out that what I really want to focus on is equality: political, economic and gender equality and on creating change in the lives of youth,” Newing said. “Once I was clear about that, even if I didn’t get the Rhodes Scholarship I knew what I was going to do. I was set.”
Jon Soske, who teaches African history at McGill, was one of Suzy Newings referees: “Like any other finalist for the Rhodes, Suzy has an incredible range of accomplishments, most notably her work around literacy and young women’s leadership in Ethiopia,” Soske said. “But what stands out, for me, is her incredible, even rigorous, sincerity. She truly believes in the value of what she does, and has followed a path driven by her strong beliefs and values rather than careerist ambition.”
After a grueling application process that involved collecting six references, including four for academic work, and two personal or professional references, the interview process itself took place at an accelerated pace. After meeting the other McGill Rhodes candidates at a cocktail party on Thursday night, Newing, who hails from Chelsea, QC, north of Ottawa, came away feeling that even had she not won the scholarship, she was happy to have taken part in the process because she found all the other candidates so inspiring.
Newing is planning to do an MA in International Development and then hopes either to start her own NGO or to go into international law. One of the reasons she is so excited about getting the Rhodes is that it will bring her into contact with people, like her, from around the world who are equally driven to bring about change, and she hopes that good things will come from that.
Given her energy, her commitment and her enthusiasm, it would be very surprising if they didn’t.