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Two Saskatchewan grads win Rhodes Scholarships

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A pair of University of Saskatchewan (U of S) grads have been awarded Rhodes Scholarships, and they’ll be heading to the University of Oxford in the fall with fully-funded post-graduate programs.

It’s the first time in more than 30 years that the U of S has produced two Rhodes Scholars in the same year.

“The one panelist told me to pinch myself to make sure that I was awake, I was ecstatic,” said Taron Topham, a nursing graduate in Saskatoon.

“It hits me in stages,” said Rachel Andres, biological sciences student and education graduate. “When I got the call that Sunday night that I’d been selected, I was just euphoric.”

The Rhodes Scholarship was created in 1902 as part of the will of Cecil John Rhodes, and is the oldest scholarship in the world.

According to the Rhodes Trust, the aim of the scholarship is to identify young leaders from around the world to encourage fellowship and the betterment of humanity through the pursuit of education together.

The pair will join around 100 other Rhodes scholars from around the world who have been selected for a lot more than just good grades.

“Lots of interviews, lots of questions, lots of applications,” said Andres. “At each stage I actually learned something more about myself, and even if I hadn’t been successful, I still would have had a lot of really enriching experiences from going through the process.”

While the process was lengthy, Topham says he understands why so many people try for the honour.

“It’s not just a focus on academics, it’s the community that Rhodes builds around it,” he said. “It’s essentially an investment in your future. Not just a scholarship, it’s a community that you get to be a part of, and the alumni network is second to none.”

A product of Grandview Manitoba, Topham graduated last spring and has been working as a registered nurse in Saskatoon.

As a former junior hockey player and member of the Watrous Winterhawks, he did some searching for other Rhodes scholars that played hockey. To his surprise, he won’t be the first.

“One of the previous Rhodes Scholars, Jeffrey Fasegha, he was the captain of the Oxford hockey club,” said Topham. “He used to play in the AJHL, so I thought maybe I will try to join the team.”

Andres, who is completing her second undergraduate degree this spring, comes from the tiny town of Hepburn where her K-12 school had fewer than 300 students.

Despite her small town upbringing, she’s excited to share those experiences with people from around the world, from different backgrounds.

“The idea isn’t that you need to conform or be like other people in this cohort of scholars,” Andres told CTV News. “You need to bring your own unique perspective and your own unique experiences.”

While applicants can’t discuss specific interview questions to maintain a level of fairness for future applicants, Topham explained what interviewers look for in a Rhodes Scholar.

“Well-rounded with some kind of bump,” he said.

And while both students have spent some time living abroad, they’re eager to come back to Canada bringing with them valuable experiences and lessons.

Since the University of Saskatchewan was established in 1907, there have been 75 Rhodes Scholarship recipients, including Topham and Andres.

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