[MUSIC PLAYING] KIT DOBYNS: Is this the cam-- where am I-- right there? Where do I look? Yeah, that doesn't-- OK. Look at you. 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 that 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: For someone of his age, he has visited about 20 countries already in the world. But he would not go to places where they were referring to his comfort zone. But he goes to places where the most atrocious things have happened, Rwanda, Cambodia.
So these are the things that he wants to contribute to, by going to places, even where terrible things happen, genocide, you name it.
KIT DOBYNS: Anytime 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 (VOICEOVER): 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 kind of 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.
And so there is a richness that he is integrating. But he's doing it both ways. And he has an appreciation of both framings, both ways of learning. That is wonderful.
KIT DOBYNS: I engaged in an 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 student 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 have 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? Even when he's doing research, the kind of bibliographical work he does, you see that curiosity, to see the multiple perspectives on the same phenomenon. And that's a great disposition for scholarship, because you don't want to explain the world with only one view.
KIT DOBYNS: At Cornell, there's 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 the 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.
Following two or three days in the village, the solar panels had not arrived. And what had actually happened was that there was a series of complexities and issues, with both the customs, as well as cultural norms. And so in the end, our group left the country without ever seeing the installation of the panels.
I found this to be a mistake both on my part, because it demonstrated a lack of both familiarity with the culture, as well as familiarity with the norms of the region. And so going forward, that really inspired me to think about how familiarity with people and places is so important to working with individuals day to day. That mistake led me to not only return to Rwanda and see that those panels were installed, but led me to delve more deeply into East African culture.
We work 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 affects long-term change in terms of jobs and stability and supporting entire families. For me, the work that I was able to do with the South African parliament has really stuck with me, because of its long-term potential.
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 and 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 relying upon you or relying upon the projects that you have developed.
NICK SALVATORE: We were talking about something else. And then, I asked him what he was doing. And he said, I'm in the middle of something. I said, well, what is? It. Well, we had some serious floods up here down down by Elmira, 40 miles from Ithaca. And it was in October, I guess, of '11, the Susquehanna went over its banks.
So he put together a group of local people here, both campus and Ithaca people, et cetera. And he put together, with working with these folks, a Thanksgiving dinner for 300 people, who had lost their homes.
It was that kind of thoughtfulness. And it wasn't just his mega planning and his doing this and doing that. But it was that kind of thoughtfulness that made an incredible impression on those folks who were able to, in the midst of their own disaster, at least to come together as a group for that kind of a dinner.
KIT DOBYNS: I found myself, in many ways, working a great deal, both upon my course work as well side projects. And so that, in all honesty, would include out of my Friday and Saturday nights. But for me, I focus on studying in social spaces and with peers and particularly in Uris Library, is a place where I met a lot of my best friends and mentors.
JAMES SPANJAARD (VOICEOVER): He leaves Uris Library at times of the morning that I barely ever see. I don't know if he has time to sleep.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: He makes himself work.
JAMES SPANJAARD: Kit definitely works really hard. You know, he's a studious guy. He understands that this place is an opportunity to invest a lot in that. But it doesn't consume his life. You know, he still goes to sports games. He still makes time for people, hangs out, has fun.
KIT DOBYNS: You know, I may have missed out in some ways on the broader social scene. You know, but to me, happiness was working on the computer and streaming a Knicks game while eating barbecue wings with friends.
JAMES SPANJAARD: I think he signed up for almost every listserv that you can possibly get on in this place. So if there's a seminar happening at Cornell, he knows about it. So I'll randomly get e-mails forwarded, hey, James, there's a seminar happening and then free lunch or free dinner or free snacks, which once you go of off campus meal plan, you really appreciate.
KIT DOBYNS (VOICEOVER): 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.
Those individuals didn't simply teach me, but I felt like they really invested in me outside of the classroom. They were people who sent me e-mails as I was traveling. They were people who met with me after class and would guide me and edit my papers.
But it wasn't simply limited to my coursework. I felt that these people were interested in my overall well-being and were interested in my overall growth as an individual, as a person, and particularly Professor Salvatore would meet with me a lot for lunch and for coffee and would always encourage me to pursue my interests and pursue and focus on my personal growth. And I will note that my lowest grade at Cornell was also in his class.
NICK SALVATORE: I gave him a viciously hard time on his writing. So I think he's learned something about writing.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: There were skills that he had to learn, writing these essays, in formulating the ideas, the sequencing. So these are normal things that a student learn. No matter how brilliant you are there are certain things that you have to learn.
NICK SALVATORE (VOICEOVER): There was nobody in this world whom he couldn't learn from. That's how he feels. And there's a unpretentious simplicity about him, because he recognizes the potential in everybody whom he meets. 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, he's milked it for what it can offer him.
KIT DOBYNS (VOICEOVER): It required about almost a year of preparation, in terms of working on the application and things of that nature. There was a lot of people putting time and energy into that process and into me. There's tons of faculty and staff on campus who conduct mock interviews for candidates.
And I went through two or three of those. There's tons of faculty and staff who edited my application and reviewed other students' applications. So while I was awarded the scholarship and my name is on it, there's an army of people here at Cornell who dotted the I's and crossed the T's and I'm really grateful for their support.
JAMES SPANJAARD: You know, he's obviously a very successful, very accomplished person, a high capacity individual. But you know it takes getting to know him to actually figure that out. And usually, you find that out 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 the 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. And 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. That's pretty unique, maybe in part for someone that age. But I actually think it's pretty unique.
N'DRI ASSIE-LUMUMBA: All I can say 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 roads 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 opened doors and connections with 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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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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