[MUSIC PLAYING] KIT DOBYNS: Is this the cam-- where am I-- right there?
SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
KIT DOBYNS: Where do I look? Sorry.
SPEAKER 2: You should look at me, actually.
KIT DOBYNS: Yeah, that-- OK. Look at you.
SPEAKER 2: Yeah.
KIT DOBYNS: OK, yeah. My name is Kit Dobyns.
I took a freshman writing seminar my very first semester at Cornell. And my professor told me, don't let your education limit your education, meaning not to let my classes here at Cornell limit my holistic education. Because there's so many opportunities outside of the classroom.
I really took what my professor said to heart. And so to me, that meant taking two leaves of absence from Cornell, which, while sometimes uncomfortable and a bit of a risk, enabled me to spend a semester in Tanzania and to spend a semester in South Africa.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: He has visited-- for someone of his age-- he has visited about 20 countries already in the world. But he would not go to places where they-- you were referring to his comfort zone. But he goes to places where the most atrocious things have happened-- Rwanda, Cambodia.
KIT DOBYNS: Any time one experiences or lives among the poorest of the poor in our world, it is very difficult to ignore that.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: Kit is an intellectual. He likes to articulate the theoretical framework. But for him, that theoretical work has a meaning only if you use it to change something around you.
KIT DOBYNS: My specific interests I would say would be extreme poverty in the developing world. And that's not to say that there aren't people suffering in our own country in the United States. But I do think that the disparity that one can, and that I have, had the opportunity to witness, specifically in East Africa, draws a very distinct dichotomy.
JAMES SPANJAARD: What I noticed about Kit is he definitely cares about a lot of these international issues-- poverty reduction, social change. But what I've seen is he's been very intentional about not just sitting in the wonderful nice facilities of a great university and just postulating on what could be or should be done. But he's really been intentional about putting himself in places where you can have experiences, where you can see what's actually happening on the ground.
NICK SALVATORE: He comes back from Tanzania. He comes back from an incredible summer in Rwanda or from South Africa, and he brings that experience into his classes when they're talking about poverty or inequality or technology in the Third World or whatever the issue may be.
KIT DOBYNS: I engaged in a Africana Studies curriculum to further investigate and think more about the inequalities affecting the African diaspora.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: He took a course with me, "Women and Gender Issues in Africa." There are relatively fewer male students than female who take that course. He took it, and he really shined.
KIT DOBYNS: The paradigm there was more Afrocentric as opposed to the Eurocentric curriculum I was exposed to in high school.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: He's hungry of knowledge. And he doesn't want to learn about things that he has already an idea about.
KIT DOBYNS: I was challenged in ways that I hadn't been in high school. I was challenged to think about the shape of history and the history that I had been told.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: He wants to question the received knowledge. Is the perspective I'm receiving the only one, or are there other perspectives?
KIT DOBYNS: At Cornell, there are certainly different trains of thought. But there's always an opportunity to challenge oneself, whether that's physically, socially, or intellectually. And I found that in Africana Studies curriculum here at Cornell.
I've been blessed with numerous grants and support from Cornell to travel to Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America.
We worked to ensure that a constitutional stipulation requiring that every company with more than 50 people include 2% of employees with disabilities actually implement and abide by that law. This effects long-term change in terms of jobs and stability and supporting entire families.
When I think about success, I think about sustained and long-term and continued success. For example, I've been involved with people using a modified light source in their homes in developing that. But my real dream for those communities is that they're connected to an electrical grid. The real ideal goal is that people are no longer reliant upon you or reliant upon the projects that you have developed.
JAMES SPANJAARD: Kit definitely works really hard. He's a studious guy. He understand that this place is an opportunity and invests a lot in that. But it doesn't consume his life. He still goes to sports games. He still makes time for people, hangs out, has fun.
KIT DOBYNS: I think the reality is that there's over 14,000 of us, and everyone has their own experience. And so it's impossible to share in every little bit that's going on here at Cornell. It would be hard for me to say that there's things that I haven't missed out on because there is so much going on here.
NICK SALVATORE: He's a person who, among many other things, has made the most use of this institution. He has, in the best meaning of the term, milked it for what it can offer him.
JAMES SPANJAARD: He's obviously a very successful, very accomplished person, a high capacity individual. But it takes getting to know him to actually figure that out. And usually you, find that our through other people or through seeing him in the newspaper somewhere or on some website somewhere.
And you're like, oh, Kit, so you won this prize or you won this scholarship or you were a Rhodes Scholar. And he's like, oh, yeah. That happened.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: He's very humble, but very powerful in terms of his ideas and what he's convinced that he should be doing. You see that contrast, humility and at the same time doing extraordinary things.
KIT DOBYNS: I've been blessed with the opportunity to attend one of the finest universities in the world. And so with that comes the responsibility to take responsibility.
NICK SALVATORE: He to me really represents what the sociologist Max Weber wrote about at the turn of the 20th century. He has a vocation. He has a calling. He has a changing, but yet grounded still, sense of himself in the world.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: All I can see is that he will be doing some great thing. And whatever he does, he will be doing it with passion.
NICK SALVATORE: He is going to be using the Rhodes within the framework that continues to evolve within him, rather than to be bedazzled by the idea that I'm a Rhodes Scholar. I hope to live to be about 90,000 years old, because I want to watch what happens with Kit.
KIT DOBYNS: I'm excited about the Rhodes Scholarship because I think it open doors and connections of people who are the leaders in their field, regardless of what that field may be. And I think there's an opportunity for me to learn from them.
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extended version of this video.
Christopher "Kit" Dobyns '13 is a 2013 Rhodes Scholar. At Cornell, he majored in Africana studies with minors in inequality studies, and law and society. A Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar, he has studied Swahili and Zulu, taught English in Rwanda, worked at an orphanage in Tanzania, developed a curriculum for South Africa's National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities, and created a curriculum on human rights abuses for a high school in Rwanda. He also founded a company that distributes low-cost energy in rural Nigeria, and founded a nonprofit that provides consulting to social entrepreneurs. At Oxford, Dobyns plans to complete a master's degree in refugee studies.
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