Taking her education to a whole new level
“It was extremely exciting,” said 21-year-old Eleanor Gardner of the moment she learned she’d been selected as the Island’s latest Rhodes Scholar.
She and her parents waited for the phone call from the scholarship committee together, not certain whether she’d be headed to Oxford University next autumn.
“It doesn’t just change the way others will then perceive you being a Rhodes Scholar but it’s such a great opportunity to be accepted within the community at Oxford,” she said.
“You have really bright people who are smart, interesting and well-rounded from across the world and often, especially in the US, they are looked at as future leaders for their country and within their field.
“And coming from a small island like Bermuda, you can’t make those kinds of diplomatic connections any other way besides just knowing people.
“So the connections you have, the educational opportunity and specifically being within the Rhodes environment are what I am most looking forward to.”
The former Bermuda High School student plans to pursue a master of philosophy in politics at Oxford.
At the moment she is still submitting her applications and has to first be officially accepted into a programme at the prestigious university.
When asked, Ms Gardner supposes she was always a studious person in her younger years, but for the most part she was just trying to make her way through school like everyone else.
An avid swimmer since age six and a member of local sailing teams in her teens, Ms Gardner said those provided her with a balanced approach to life outside of school.
It wasn’t until her last few years at BHS, while working through her GCSEs and the IB programme, that her focus on academics became more clear.
She said: “Once you have that very clear result that you want to attain and realise it’s not just grades from school, but it’s international examinations, that’s where you learn how to study properly and all the motivation comes.
“It clicks that you are doing it for yourself and that all goes on a transcript which you then show other people, so I guess GCSEs is when I really learned what it was to be a studious person.
“Everything always builds on itself and there are interesting parallels to athletics there because, especially in Bermuda where we have the opportunity to compete internationally on a fairly regular basis, you qualify for one meet, then you qualify for the next level meet and then you want to qualify for the next.
“And that’s what I am trained in athletically. It’s similar in academics when you get one result and if you do well you work for the next result. I have always thought of it as that ladder effect of climbing up and obviously one thing leads to another.”
Her interest in political theory and racial politics piqued in high school while taking a peace and conflict studies course.
Coming out of that, she thought she would take the international studies route at university, but once at Johns Hopkins she found another area of interest.
She started taking philosophy classes and found she was really passionate about the study of political theory.
“I really enjoyed that and the basis that it provides for work, whether it be racial politics or global politics, I find I have a new lens when I approach that work and it’s kind of routed in more theoretical stuff,” she said.
Ms Gardner credits much of her success to her parents’ support.
She said she was also thankful to be from a unique place like Bermuda, where young people are presented with diverse scholarship opportunities.
“The scholarships are such a valuable resource for Bermudian students, and it opens up so many doors for us.
“So while obviously it comes from the individual to do well in school and get the grades and make sure you are doing extracurriculars to help you, I think the opportunities available here provide a lot of amazing opportunities for Bermudians that should be taken advantage of because we are lucky enough to have them in the first place.”
Beyond that she said athletics also helped her to do better in school, by giving her an extra social environment and teaching her how to balance time.
In 2008 Ms Gardner was selected to represent the Island at an Olympic youth camp in Beijing, China.
As the female youth ambassador for Bermuda, she was able to take part in cultural exchange opportunities and also met a host of younger athletes from around the world “who just missed the cut to actually go to the Olympics for their country”.
“There were a couple of athletes who were competing in the London Olympics, who actually had been at the Olympic youth camp with us, so it was really cool to see that kind of fluidity,” she added.
Ms Gardner said she was proud of herself “to a certain extent” for all she has accomplished.
The Royal Gazette: “I really enjoy going to school and learning about these subjects and issues and the Rhodes and Oxford is just a whole new level that I hadn’t expected to have this early, so it’s extremely exciting.
“When I applied I knew they had not enough applicants in the past and they have been really trying to publicise it more and talk to and work with the local schools in order to have more people applying.
“I know this year was a lot more competitive than what they have had in past years, so it’s just one of those things where the opportunity is there and you take advantage of it.
“You can apply multiple years if you want to, though obviously it’s a lot of work to put the application together, but I knew it was something I wanted and it just felt like the right time to apply.”