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Hill alumnus selected as one of 32 Rhodes Scholars
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Henry Spelman '06 (photo courtesy of UNC)

Henry Spelman, Hill Class of 2006, is one of 32 American college students selected to attend Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Spelman currently is a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is studying classical languages and creative writing. He plans to pursue a master's degree in Greek and Latin when he matriculates at the prestigious English university in the fall of 2010.

Spelman is the sixth known Hill School alumnus to be named a Rhodes Scholar. Bruce Partridge '57, the Bettye and Howard Marshall Professor of Natural Sciences at Haverford College, was a Rhodes Scholar from 1962 to 1965. Coincidentally, Partridge was a member of the Philadelphia selection committee for the 2010 Rhodes Scholar. Michael Smith '60, General Josiah Bunting '57, Caleb Gates '22, and Theodore Hume '21 also were selected for this honor. William Cushing, who was a member of Hill's faculty from 1919-1923, also was a Rhodes Scholar.

According to UNC's website, last spring Spelman won the UNC prize for the undergraduate who presents the best rendering into English of selected passages of Greek not previously read, as well as the prize for the undergraduate who shows the best ability to understand Latin poetry and translate selected passages at sight. He has won two merit scholarships from UNC's classics department. He is proficient in conversation in Swahili and in conversation and reading in German.

Last summer, Spelman worked to help Burundian refugees in Tanzania with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on a Morehead-Cain summer experience. He is the editor of UNC's undergraduate literary magazine, the Cellar Door; has written a poem that has been accepted by the internationally circulated Southern Poetry Review; has won the prize for the best poet in the junior class from UNC’s creative writing program; is actively involved with Amnesty International and has founded and heads a group that helps families of former refugees from Myanmar/Burma adapt to life in America.


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Henry Spelman's 2006 yearbook photo

Spelman reflects on his time at Hill

When Spelman first found out about this honor, he reached out to his former Hill teachers. "Five of the first people I contacted after I found out I won the scholarship were Dr. Henry Bender (Elizabeth B. Blossom Chair of Humanities) , Dr. James Finn (Isaac Thomas Instructor of Classics), Dr. Kathy Malone (Dean of Academics), Mr. Jim Reifsnyder (instructor of history), and Ms. Katie Mather (former instructor of English). I will owe them an eternal debt of gratitude for doing nothing less than saving my mind and changing my life beyond all recognition, " he noted in an e-mail to The Hill. "I've been asked several times in the last few days how I became interested in the classics and I have to be honest: I am still reeling from my first awe-inspiring encounters with Vergil and Homer facilitated by Dr. Bender and Dr. Finn, respectively.

"I quoted Dr. Finn in my finalist interview saying 'Reading a translation is like having someone tell you what an ice cream cone tastes like.' I will never forget limping painfully slowly through the first 25 lines of the Aeneid by the side of a pool in Rome with the thoughtful help of Dr. Bender, and I still get chills when I think of ascending the stairs up to the Levis Room for one of Dr. Bender's thrilling Humanities classes.

"The farther I get away from The Hill the more I realize just how unique and special of a community it is. It's not everywhere that the captain of the football team (Keegan Ash '06) and the resident 'Humanities nerd' (me) can room together and be great friends, and it's not everywhere that a resident Humanities nerd also can be a reserve offensive lineman on the football team and the football team captain also can be a powerful thinker in his own right.

"Playing goaltender and serving as the 'spiritual leader' for the JV hockey team; writing poetry with Ms. Mather as an independent study during the spring of my fifth form year; leading Hill's Amnesty International group; reading Sophocles with Dr. Bender -- every one of the passions that eventually found their way onto my Rhodes application was born or fostered at The Hill.

"What I most cherish about The Hill, however, are the relationships and experiences that didn't make any appearance on my application: playing J-Ball with Colin Casey '06, putting underformers to bed with my fellow prefect Sal Cutrona '06, playing pick-up hockey on the outdoor rink with Mike Mauger '06 on Friday nights, and laughing through calculus class with Mr. Anderson (former instructor of mathematics)."

Teachers' thoughts on a former student

Spelman's former teachers are thrilled about this accomplishment and share in the excitement of his success. “There are so many things I could say about Henry,” said Henry Bender, Ph.D. “In my 42 years of teaching, I have never met a student who was more widely read or attuned to the study of the language and culture of the ancient world. Henry is so deserving of this honor – not only because he is destined to be a great scholar and educator, but because his humility is remarkable.” 

"In his upper-level Classics courses with me, Henry showed at once an unusual degree of intellectual curiosity supported by a voracious appetite for reading," noted Jim Finn, Ph.D. "His was one of the finest young minds which I have encountered in my years at The Hill. I consider myself most fortunate to have had the opportunity to exchange ideas with him in lively routine classroom discussions, in which he frequently emerged as a catalyst who often had as much to teach as to learn."

Jim Reifsnyder, chair of Hill's history department, shared the following:  "I had the invigorating opportunity to have Henry in my classroom, to talk with him, read and evaluate his papers, and have him remind me every day as to why mine was the best profession.

"He had no peers, as a student: and when it was time to grant the AP European History award when he was a sixth-former, I decided not to give him a plaque destined for some musty box in a closet, but rather some thing of my own that I cherished: a first edition of a collection of short stories by Vladimir Nabakov," Jim continued.  "I did so because I was grateful to him, for his passion, his wit, and his endless curiosity."

"I have the habit of playfully addressing my students as scholars," noted Pat Lake, instructor of classics. "In Henry’s case this appellation has turned out to be particularly foretelling. Henry was an outstanding student when I taught him in Latin and Greek. But more than that – remarkable especially considering his youth – he had a humane understanding, a unique ability to comprehend the power of literature and great ideas.
 
"He had not only an innate grasp of the structure of language in general, but also a real talent for applying that understanding in his own lucid academic writing and powerful creative writing. If at least part of the goal of a Hill student is to leave The School’s 'high honor higher still' at such a young age Henry has already begun to achieve that ideal," Pat continued. "He follows in the footsteps of a great tradition in classical learning at The Hill, beginning with the school’s founder, Matthew Meigs (who had a Ph.D. in classics), to the School’s most important and influential academic mind of the modern era, the late William Arrowsmith '41, classics professor at Princeton, Wesleyan, Texas, and Boston University. "

Articles about Spelman's honor appeared in the Sunday, November 22 editions of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, and The Herald Sun (North Carolina). You may read the full articles by clicking on the links below:

Philadelphia Inquirer: "Swarthmore native, his girlfriend among 32 Rhodes scholars"

The Washington Post: "Swimmers, poets among the 2010 Rhodes Scholars from US"

The Herald Sun: "Two UNC seniors win Rhodes Scholarships"

Please note: We will be adding to this story as we hear more about Henry's achievement.

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