Career & Education

Taking the right 'Rhodes'

Jelani Munroe wins Oxford scholarship

Associate editor - features

Sunday, November 19, 2017

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When Governor General Sir Patrick Allen personally telephoned Erica Boswell-Munroe on Thursday afternoon to say that he had met her son and found him to be a wonderful person, her heart leaped.

Her son, Jelani was at Kings House interviewing for the 2018 Rhodes Scholarship, and while the GG didn't divulge the outcome of the selection committee's deliberations, she instinctively knew that he had done well.

“I said to myself, but wait, 'The GG doesn't call people!' So I knew he had done well. Either he had won or was a runner-up,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

Boswell-Munroe is the deputy chief parliamentary counsel and had recently had occasion to speak with the GG on a particular matter.

“That's why he remembered me and called,” she said, smiling broadly.

Her son did win the scholarship and will be pursuing a Masters of Philosophy in Development Studies at Oxford University in the UK, starting next September.

Not that she expected any less from the child who has won two previous scholarships — a Government of Jamaica award to cover his secondary education at Campion College, and a Stanford University award for his undergraduate studies.

“He's always done well in school,” the mother said, using the nine Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate grade ones and the 10 ones he copped at Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination in high school as examples.

He also did well on his SATs and was accepted to several universities, including some in the Ivy League.

“We value education,” said Boswell-Munroe. “We work very hard. I started out poorly, in a little board house on a hillside, so education has been very valuable for me and I try my best to pass that on to them.

“But I don't grow them stupid, like to be full of themselves and worship material things. I grow them to value themselves, value their country, be patriotic, love people, be kind, do good. That's what I teach them,” she said.

“Them” refers to Jelani, his twin brother Jabari, and their older brother Clive Jr. Jabari is a medical doctor while Clive Jr is a lawyer, like both parents.

Asked about his reaction when the governor general announced him the winner on Thursday, Jelani told Career & Education that although he wasn't nervous or intimidated by the qualifications of the other candidates, he was somewhat relieved as it had brought closure to months of preparation.

“You have 10 people who genuinely are all brilliant. They've gone on to achieving international fellowships in development, there are people with master's degrees already, some pursuing it, some who have started their own businesses, etc. They are an excellent, excellent group, so I feel lucky to have emerged from the 10,” he said.

The 23-year-old described his win as the result of a village effort — from his parents and their support, friends who offered encouragement, and the schools he attended.

“I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Campion College for the belief they placed in me and the opportunities to express myself in different co-curricular activities, and not just in the classroom. I don't think I could have had a better preparation before going to Stanford, and they also reinvested in me too, so it really was a village effort and at every point I definitely give thanks to those people,” the young man said.

He had special words with regard to the role his father, Clive Munroe, has played.

“I have recently come to say that in many ways I'm instinctively like my mother, but I've grown more like my father. He's been a rock; very, very supportive. He has modelled decency for me among Jamaican men. There was never a night that he was not home. He was the one who was dropping us to school, he does the cooking in the house, and I never felt that my mother's voice was ever suppressed in the house. I love him very, very dearly.

“He's just as loving, but not as expressive as my mother is,” said the scholar, who had previously regaled the selection committee with animated examples of how he expected his mother to react to the good news.

As for his plans after Oxford, Jelani reported that he has not yet zeroed in on any specific job.

“I'll go to Oxord and see exactly what that is like, allow myself the opportunity to evolve, then come back and see where is my fit. I don't have a singular aspiration,” he told Career & Education.




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