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Riding the Rhodes to success

Rhodes scholar Steven Wang says that parents’ sacrifice inspired his win
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ANDREW JOHNSON/THE VARSITY
ANDREW JOHNSON/THE VARSITY

Steven Wang was devastated when he heard he didn’t get the Rhodes Scholarship interview. He went for a long jog that morning and kept the bad news to himself as he received it on convocation day.

But his sadness was short-lived; he later received another email explaining that he was selected for an interview after all. And a few weeks later, while at the Fox and Fiddle for karaoke night, he found out that he won the coveted award.

“I rushed out the bar — probably running over two or three people,” said Wang. “I swear I had the biggest smile on my face of anyone in the city that night. It seemed completely unreal.”

The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the most prestigious awards in academia. Awarded based on academic success and extracurricular activities, winners receive a stipend and an endowment to study at the University of Oxford for two years. Eleven scholarships are given out annually to Canadians.

Since arriving in Canada at the age of nine, Wang has come far.

His parents, born into poverty in China, decided to immigrate to Canada to give their son a chance to pursue a better life.

“I still remember my mother crying when we first landed, sleeping on the floors of a small apartment, trying to be courageous, but determined to provide me with the opportunities she never had,” said Wang.

This sacrifice his parents made motivated him to be successful in school. He received a 3.87 cumulative grade point average studying international relations and philosophy at U of T and finished high school with a 97.5 per cent average.

Political science professor Stephen Clarkson says that in his undergraduate research group, Wang “stood out for the clarity and authority with which he articulated his views.

“Compared to the many students I have taught over 47 years, Steven has exceptional personal maturity and international experience,” added Clarkson. “His study of China’s rise has connected his personal journey as a Chinese-Canadian with his political commitment to reconciling global tensions.”

Wang spent a year abroad, studying in Paris as an exchange student. That summer, he studied conflict in the Middle East at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Another summer was spent in Serbia and Bosnia, studying peace-building.

ANDREW JOHNSON/THE VARSITY

During his undergraduate years, he backpacked throughout East Africa, Europe and the Middle East to 25 countries, including hiking through parts of the Sahara Desert and whitewater rafting down the Nile River.

Wang also plays first violin for the Trinity String Quartet and previously played for Mississauga Youth Orchestra and Kitchener Waterloo Youth Orchestra.

“I am extremely proud of Steven for winning this prestigious award,” said Jesse Beatson, Wang’s good friend.

Stephen’s friends have nothing but kind words to say about him.

Ben Verboom, a U of T alumnus and Wang’s roommate, said that his friend is an “incredibly bright and driven young man.”

“My first impression of Steven, when I met him in September of 2007, was that he was destined to do something big down the road.”

At Oxford, Wang plans to pursue an MPhil in international relations, and afterwards, get an international law degree in the United States.

Asked if he had any advice for students who are starting their undergrad at U of T, Wang replied that “[new students] should really make it their own and not settle for anything less than constantly searching for what they want.”

“I draw from my experiences that you really do not have to follow the conventional definition of university success,” he said. “I chose not to get too involved in student politics or starting too many clubs because I really valued self-exploration and international experiences.”

Last year, Victoria College student Erin Fitzgerald was the recipient of the award. The University of Toronto has produced numerous Rhodes scholars throughout its history, including Liberal MP and interim party leader Bob Rae and current university president David Naylor.