Scholar, Athlete, Bermudian

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Penn has its first international Rhodes Scholar in College senior David Ferreira, who got word of his receipt of Bermuda’s only Rhodes Scholarship during a Christmas party over winter break.

Ferreira, a political science, philosophy, and economics major, underwent a rigorous application process that started in September and culminated in an intense seven-person panel interview on December 17. His interview covered an exhaustive range of topics, from the basic “a little about you” to his cricketing experiences, human-rights issues, the separation of church and state in France, the state of the European Union, and his conception of the similarities between America’s Revolutionary War, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution.

“I tried to steer the interview towards issues I felt strongly about,” Ferreira says, “and the committee was quite responsive to that.” While he wasn’t nervous about his performance, Ferreira says he went home having no idea how well he’d ranked against the other applicants.

Later that night, at a Christmas party given by his mother, Ferreira got a call from the secretary of the Rhodes Trust in Bermuda. “The secretary started out by saying, ‘We enjoyed the interview, but we had a lot of good candidates,’ and I thought, ‘This is it. I didn’t get it,’” Ferreira recalls. “Then he said, ‘So we’ve obviously chosen you.’ I just stood there blankly for 10 or 15 seconds before I could respond.”

Ferreira, who was born in Bermuda and retains Bermudian citizenship, moved to England with his parents when he was eight, remaining there until coming to Penn. He plans to practice law in Bermuda, where the legal system is British, so the decision to apply for the scholarship (whose recipients receive funding to study at the University of Oxford) seemed natural to him. 

The Rhodes Scholarship Trust, established in 1902, awards some 92 scholarships internationally in a typical year. (Penn’s last Rhodes Scholar was Lipika Goyal C’01, selected in 2001 [“Gazetteer,” Mar/Apr 2001].) Academic excellence is necessary but not sufficient to win the prestigious scholarships, which examine other criteria as well, such as athletic prowess and quality of character.

Ferreira has a surplus of all of these characteristics. In England, where there is “a plethora of sports to play,” Ferreira enjoyed rugby, cricket, soccer, squash, golf, skiing, and tennis. He played on the varsity squash team in his freshman and sophomore years at Penn until knee injuries forced him off the field. This year, he’s taking up club baseball. 

He has also been involved in politics in Bermuda, which he feels gave him an edge in the candidate pool. Last summer he worked as a speechwriter for the New United Bermuda Party, writing press releases and other presentations. “They hired a campaign staff that was mostly American, so they were worried that the other two speechwriters would write things that didn’t sound Bermudian,” Ferreira says. “That’s why they hired me. It was a brilliant experience. It’s totally surreal to hear your words spoken by someone else on television in front of the entire nation.” He adds ruefully, “We didn’t win, though. So none of the stuff we worked on is going to go through.” In the future, he plans to go into politics in Bermuda himself.

Dr. Arthur Casciato, director of Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, described Ferreira as “perhaps the most gracious person I’ve met in four years of working with fellowship candidates,” adding that “he engages whatever questions he is asked not as hurdles to be cleared and put behind him but as opportunities to think anew about his opinions and positions. Given this kind of thoughtfulness, as well as his obvious and broad athletic ability, I’m not the least bit surprised that the selection committee chose David.”

Ferreira says the worst moment of his Rhodes experience actually came after he’d received the award. While being interviewed for The Daily Pennsylvanian, he supplied the name of a good friend for the campus newspaper to ask for a quote. “Later, I asked Will what he told the DP, and he said, ‘I was totally shocked that David won the award. But on the other hand, I’m pretty sure his mother wrote the committee a pretty big check,’ at which point my face just drained of blood,” Ferreira laughs. “He didn’t tell me he was joking, and I waited two days for the article to come out and shatter my mother’s good name all over the Philadelphia presses. That was probably the high point of my nervousness.”

All joking aside, Ferreira speaks with respect for the responsibilities inherent in being a Rhodes Scholar from Bermuda. “It’s been my dream to study law at Oxford, and this scholarship helps make it possible. It’s a great honor to represent the nation.” 

Alison Stoltzfus C’05

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