Four Washington area students were selected last week as Rhodes scholars. The Rhodes Scholarship program was founded in 1903 as a trust from the assets of Cecil J. Rhodes, an explorer, colonial statesman and diamond mine king in South Arifa.
The Rhodes scholars were selected from among 1,250 applicants and are among 32 U.S. winners.
William J. Barber, director of the program in the United States, said the scholarships are awarded each year to men and women of "intellectuall distinction who exhibit athletic vigor and display qualities of leadership and concern for the public interest." Victoria Kiechel
Victoria Kiechel was nervous, but not intimidated, as she waited to hear the results of the interview that would determine if she would receive a Rhodes Scholarship.
"It was like a beauty pageant. We all sat around waiting to hear," said Kiechel. "There wasn't much to do so most people talked about themselves."
Kiechel was among the finalists from her region who went to the University of New Orleans campus where judges pondered over who would be named the 1979 Rhodes scholars. Kiechel, 23, is a former Alexandria resident.
"I was a bit older than most of them," Kiechel said, "so I wasn't intimidated and that helped me in my interviews, but I was very nervous about the competition."
Winning the scholarship, according to Kiechel, has meant she has climbed another step in her search for knowledge.
"I'm idealistic . . . it sounds stupid and trite . . . but I want to do something with my education. I feel I owe society something."
Kiechel said she took off two years from school to find out where she was in life. "It is important to know what you are about and where you are going."
She says she is searching for "the leverages that control society," for the secrets of medieval English and for self-understanding.
Kiechel, whose parents recently moved to Mobile, Ala., form Alexandria, has worked for former Rep. Carl Curites (R-Neb.) every summer since she was 17 and is now working at The Washington Post as a researcher for national reporter David Broder. Together they are assembling data for a book.
Kiechel said she has become fascinated with the study of languages.
"I've learned Latin, Greek and the dead languages of Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon," she said, "as well as learning French, German and Italian.
"I believe it is important to learn the dead languages because they are a thing of beauty themselves. It's like getting a liberal education. It gives you a perspective to veiw other problems-it helps you ask fundamental problems about whatever you do."
Kiechel said she spent several years at Yale studying the nuances of medieval English and was so inspired by her studies that she applied to Oxford independently of the Rhodes Scholarship and was accepted. She said, however, that she would not have been able to attend without the $8,000 a year in scholarship money provided by the Rhodes program.
She said Oxford is the natural place to study medieval English because "it has the greatest minds in the field. It means I will have an opportunity to read, think and write."
Kiechel, who attended T. C. Williams High School and plays the piano, flute and other woodwind instruments, explained that the requirements to become a Rhodes scholar had been revised in recent years so that all winners do not have to be athletes. Paul E. Gootenberg
Paul E. Gootenberg is a Marxist. He is also a local resident and student at the University of Chicago who recently recevied a Rhodes Scholarship.
Gootenberg believed that being both a Marxist and a Rhodes scholar was impossible, and was surpised when he heard the announcement.
"It was probably very obvious to the committee that I am a Marxist," he said, "and it is a very important part of my social and academic life-I thought it would automatically eliminate me on that account.
"I was shocked that I had won, not because of my intellectual abilities, but because I am not the kind of person people usually assocaite with Rhodes scholars.
"I have no athletic background and all the stuff-you know the sterotype-intellectual jocks that wear three piece suits and carry a briefcase."
Gootenberg was a founder of the Organization of Latin American Students at the University of Chicago.
"By being interested in all of these social causes I'm probably breaking precedent," he said.
"I feel ambivalent about the award. I don't attach much prestige to it. It is the practicality of getting an education out of Great Britain. The award was once one step into the ruling class. That is not my desire at all. In fact, the award, named after the guy they named Rhodesia for, should be called the Zimbabwe Rhodes scholarship."
Gootenberg, 24, is from Garrett Park, Md., and attended Charles W. Woodward High School in Rockville. He said he is an activist interested in Latin American politics.
He also is a member of the Chicago Committee to Save Lives in Hile and said his concern is to perpetuate the goals of the organization to "support people of Latin American for democracy, justice and independence." He said he will study economic history and Latin American at Oxford. He also said he plans to travel to Latin America this summer.
He said he is now organizing a concert tour for a Chilean folk group, Quilapyun, which will arrive in the United States in late February to help raise funds for the committee.
Gootenburg, who said he barely got through his Rockville high school because he did not like it, said he could not seperate his studies from his political beliefs:"I don't see academics as an avenue in itself, but as an aid in social causes."
He got invovled in the Chilean cause partly because one of his professors was involved, he said. "We began by boy-cotting products in the Hyde Park area of Chicago . . . . The involvment saved me from the sterile atmosphere of academic work."
Gootenberg, who worked two years after high school before going to college, said the news of his scholarship "excited my parents more than me."
According to Gootenberghs roommate, Robert Saute, "He studies an incredible amount of time. It didn't surprise me when he got the scholarship-it would have surprised me if he didn't." Karen Stevenson
Karen Stevenson's roommate describes her as "the kind of student you hate. She does everything right."
Stevenson, who is a Morehouse scholar, a University of North Carolina track star and most recently the first black woman to become a Rhodes scholar, says her roommate has helped keep her sane during the hectic days that followed the Rhodes announcement.
Her roommate, Stacy Hollenberg, contends, "Behind every Rhodes scholar there is a great roommate."
Stevenson said phone calls from reporters have been poruing into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"My poor roommate was in the middle of exams," said Stevenson, whoe home is in Northeast Washington, "and the phone was rining of the hook-everyone wanted to know where I was.
"I was really surprised that I had won. I had come out of the interview in tears because I thought I did horribly . . . . But I stopped feeling so bad when other candidates began asking me, "How many questions did they ask before you could answer one."
Stevenson said the judges asked questions that related to her college courses.
"It could be a freshman course or a course I had hust studies," she said. "I was responsible for everything. They wanted to see if we learned what we had been taught and not just memorized it.
"When they asked me about histroy, they asked mt to assess President Roosevelt's . . . let's see, there was a war . . . ."
Stevenson said she laughed when her friends told her during her junior year she should try to win a Rhodes Scholarship."I'm not one of those wonderful people," she told them.
"Some people can see from the sandbox that that is what they are going to do," she said, "but I never thought anything I did would add up to a Rhodes Scholarship."
Stevenson, who attended Slowe Elementary School in Northeast and Taft Junior High Scholl before going to a prep school in Connecticut, said she will study French and Russian at Oxford.
She said she will travel this summer to Italy, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union to study church art and architecture.
"Art and architecture were my interests in college and this travel will help me by putting me in the midst of the great religious centers-the Christian center in Italy, the Byzantine Empire in Istanbul and the former center of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Moscow."
Stevenson said she has been able to balance her sports activities and academic life by moderating her extracurricular activities.
According to he roommate, "Karen is really organized. She gets everything done on time. She reads every assignment. She apparently developed good study habits a long time ago." Stefan Underhill
To get a Rhodes Scholarship, Stefan Underhill of Alexandria thought you hat to be someone like former basketball player and newly elected Rep. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) or Los Angeles Rams quarterback Pat Hayden.
"Part of the reason I did not get the scholarship the first year was because I had a superhuman image of what a Rhodes scholar needed to be," Underhill said, "and I could easily see my weaknesses."
This year, even though he "really didn't believe" he would make it, he applied anyway.
"I made a bet with my roommate that I would not even get to the state level. I gladly lost the bet.
"My parents, knowing that I had lost the first time, kept trying to let me down easy. They kep saying, 'You did very well in college and you will be goint to law school, so don't worry.
Because he didn't expect to do well, Underhill said, when it was time for his interview, he was more relaxed than the other candidates.
When Underhill was selected form among 12 regional candidates, he didn't believe it.
"I almost fainted," said the 22-year-old University of Virginia graduate. It was a tremendous shock and it still hasn't sunk in.
Underhill, who graduated in 1978, now works as a parelegal at the law firm of Fulbright and Jaworski in the District of Columbia and plans to study philosophy, politcis and economics at Oxford.
The Scholarhsip winner was vice president of the student body in his junior year and president in his senior year. He said he majored in interdisciplinary studies that included government, history and English. After Oxford, he said he plans to atten law school, where he will concentrate on juvenile or energy law.
As for the scholarship, Underhill said, "I think it will do a lot to open a lot of doors for the rest of my life. It is a humbling experience and imposes a lot of responsibility-I won't allow myself to waste my two years at Oxford or the opportunities in the future."
Underhill, who attended Huguenot High School in Richmond, said, "My greatest accomplishment and the one I am most proud of in college was creating the Alumni Student Cooperative."
He said the organization was set up to help students avoid paying a $200 security deposit required for utlities. Underhill said the organization enable students to pay $5 instead of $200.
"Two thousand students joined the organization, which gave us $10,000." He said the surplus funds were funneled back into student activites. "This really helped students who had to struggle to find money for their books and setting up their apartments at the beginning of the year.
Undrhill said when he left the University of Virgina and moved to Alexandria recently he wanted to get involved with the community.
"I had been a scout for a number of years, so I called the local chapter and became a Cub Scout leader."