Weatherman Kid wins Rhodes Scholar
As with the other triumphs of his young life, Chesa Boudin was unable to celebrate with his parents on Saturday afternoon when he was named a Rhodes scholar. He could not even share the good news. As maximum-security inmates in the New York State prison system, Katherine Boudin and David Gilbert are barred from receiving telephone calls or e-mail messages.
From Radical Background, a Rhodes Scholar Emerges
By JODI WILGOREN
CHICAGO, Dec. 8 — As with the other triumphs of his young life, Chesa Boudin was unable to celebrate with his parents on Saturday afternoon when he was named a Rhodes scholar. He could not even share the good news.
As maximum-security inmates in the New York State prison system, Katherine Boudin and David Gilbert are barred from receiving telephone calls or e-mail messages. Though Mr. Boudin has rigged his dorm room at Yale University to override the block on collect calls, neither parent was able to connect with him today. They will read of their son's accomplishment in the newspaper, instead, and it may be days before they can congratulate him.
Mr. Boudin, 22, is used to it. His parents, members of the 1970's radical group the Weathermen, have been in prison since he was 14 months old, for roles in a 1981 Brink's robbery in Rockland County in which two police officers and a guard were killed. They missed his Phi Beta Kappa award, high school graduation, Little League games.
"When I was younger, I was angry," Mr. Boudin, a tall, clean-cut young man said in an interview here Saturday evening, looking comfortable in the navy pinstriped suit he had worn for the Rhodes interview, though the tie was long gone.
"Now I'm not angry," he said, "I'm sad that my parents have to suffer what they have to suffer on a daily basis, that millions of other people have to suffer as well."
Raised by two other Weathermen leaders, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, in Chicago's Hyde Park, he is one of 32 American winners of this year's Rhodes scholarships. It is a remarkable achievement for a boy with epilepsy and dyslexia who did not learn to read until third grade and spent much of his childhood in temper tantrums. His selection also reflects the changes in the nation's premier academic award in its 100th year: once an exclusive club of Ivy League athletes, the Rhodes in recent years has rewarded an array of students who have overcome striking challenges.
Among the other winners announced today are Kamyar Cyrus Habib, a Columbia University student from Kirkland, Wash., who is a black belt in karate, a downhill skier and a published photographer — as well as blind; Marianna Ofusu, who attends Howard University in Washington and is a Latin American dance champion; and Devi Shridhar of the University of Miami, who at 18 has mastered five languages, published a book on Indian myths and been admitted to medical school.
Thirteen of the winners are from Ivy League schools, four from Harvard, but the class also includes the first Rhodes scholar from the University of Central Florida, and students at state universities in Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Utah.
Established by the will of the British colonialist Cecil Rhodes in 1902, the scholarship offers a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree at Oxford University, a value estimated at about $30,000 a year. Bill Clinton, Bill Bradley, Byron White and Dean Rusk are among the 2,982 Americans from 305 colleges and universities who have won the award.
Mr. Boudin is not the first child of convicts to be chosen; Adam Ake, the son of a gynecologist convicted of raping patients, was in the Rhodes class of 1997. But the political pedigrees of Mr. Boudin's parents, biological and adoptive, present a contrast with that of the British imperialist who established the prestigious scholarship in his will.
"Cecil Rhodes, I don't know what would he think if he were alive today; he'd probably be horrified," Ms. Dohrn, a professor at Northwestern law school, said, laughing, in her office, where snapshots of her children at play are interspersed with the memorabilia of a radical life.
Dennis Hutchinson, a law professor at the University of Chicago who headed the Midwest selection committee, said Mr. Boudin's family did not come up at the Friday night cocktail party or the 20-minute interview Saturday morning, as the winners were whittled from 98 finalists. Those finalists had been selected from 981 university nominees.
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