The Long and Winding Rhodes
Reading Time: 5 minutes
The Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious global award that allows one to study and obtain a degree at the University of Oxford at no expense. Recipients of the award not only attend Oxford at no cost but also receive a two to three-year stipend, 17,310 pounds (23,000 dollars), for the 2021 to 2022 school year. In the United States, 32 winners were selected out of a group of approximately 826 applicants selected by their respective college or university. Stuyvesant alumnus Liam Elkind (’17) is among the 32 selected.
In March 2020, Elkind co-founded Invisible Hands, which provides food, medicine, and other essentials to the immunocompromised and those who have trouble accessing resources. While the organization has grown to have more than 10,000 volunteers, it was originally intended to be a local project. “The initial idea wasn’t really to build a nonprofit or recruit thousands of people, it was really just intended as a small grassroots group. The plan was to recruit some friends and their friends to bring food to people over my spring break of junior year of college and find a way to be of value and of use to our community,” Elkind said.
The success of Invisible Hands during the pandemic has drastically changed Elkind’s life. “[My life] has completely been amended both in terms of what I’m doing with my life and the work that I am doing to try and get people their essentials on a daily basis,” Elkind said. “It has informed my understanding of the fact that there will always be tremendous need in our society and that there will always be people who are ready, willing, and excited to fill that need.”
Elkind’s work as a part of Invisible Hands led him to find importance in understanding the government and create a penchant for public service. “If you called New York City through one hotline during the early days of the pandemic––March, April, and part of May––and said ‘I need food,’ they would say ‘we can’t help you, hang up and call Invisible Hands.’ To me, what we were seeing was a stunning reminder of the power of community organizing and also a scathing [reminder] of government inefficiency,” Elkind said.
To Elkind, Invisible Hands played a significant role in his becoming a Rhodes Scholar-elect. “Invisible Hands stood out to the committee as an example of service, organization, and devotion to duty worthy of a scholarship,” Elkind said. “I was able to connect Invisible Hands to my own personal narrative and goals, and tell a compelling and convincing story about myself and my genuine ambitions for change.”
Upon receiving the news that he won the Rhodes Scholarship, Elkind not only felt grateful for influential figures in his life but also felt a sense of desire and obligation to repay their favors by leaving an impact as a public servant at Oxford. “Honestly, my main reaction was gratitude—for all the friends, family, teachers, mentors, and colleagues who have raised me up, believed in me, and showed me the value of service,” Elkind said. “I also felt a sense of responsibility. This is a real honor. But all the people who supported me along the way did it because they believe that I’m going to work to make other people’s lives better.”
For Elkind, becoming a Rhodes Scholar has academic, social, and personal importance. “Most directly, [becoming a Rhodes Scholar] gives me the chance to spend two years really doing a deep dive into how to make our democracy stronger, and that is the unparalleled experience and the ability to just devote myself to studying that, '' Elkind said. “Even beyond that, the opportunity to be outside of the country will broaden my perspectives on culture and politics in a way that I wouldn’t be able to get otherwise because it gives me the chance to see how other people live.”
Elkind is also looking forward to being able to indulge his long-standing interest in Shakespeare. “On a personal level, I have always been a Shakespeare fan ever since I was a little kid. And so I’m going to be just a couple of hours away from Stratford where Shakespeare grew up, so I’m really excited for that. Child Liam [...] would be jumping for joy if he knew I had that opportunity.”
The Rhodes scholar is also excited to have the opportunity to go to college again. “To meet new people and get new experiences and meet people from all around the world and hang out with and have a good time and learn from them and learn with them is a really exciting opportunity that honestly in a lot of ways reminds me of my time at Stuyvesant: the ability to learn from and with brilliant, creative, interesting, insightful people on a daily basis.”
Elkind credits Stuyvesant as an integral factor in his academic and personal development. “I look back on my Stuyvesant experience as incredibly formative to the thinker that I am, and to the person that I am,” Elkind said. “I carry those memories with me and I will be grateful to Stuyvesant until the day I die. I identify so strongly with that school and I really miss it because it really does feel like it was four of the best years of my life.”
There are multiple teachers who developed strong relationships with Elkind during his time at Stuyvesant, including English teacher Katherine Fletcher, who taught Elkind in her Great Books class. Fletcher not only appreciated Elkind’s contributions to her class but still maintains a connection with him to this day. “Liam and I have kept in touch in the years since he graduated, and I have especially loved following his work with Invisible Hands,” Fletcher said in an e-mail interview. “He’s someone who is sincerely dedicated to making meaningful contributions to his communities, whether that means an individual classroom [...] or to the entire city of New York.”
Outside of the classroom, Elkind appreciated Stuyvesant’s extracurriculars as well. “I got a ton out of Speech and Debate. I learned how to become more poised, more articulate, more eloquent, more of a relational and relatable speaker,” Elkind said. Elkind was also a Big Sib during his time at Stuyvesant. “I learned so much from the other Big Sibs and from my little sibs and I still maintain relationships with them to this day, and that feels really rewarding,” he said.
For those looking to get involved in community service, he advises one to view the service as an opportunity and honor rather than an obligation. “Remember that service is one of the most uplifting and inspiring and reinvigorating things that a person could do with their time. Try as best you can not to view your service requirement for ARISTA as something to get through, but [something] to do for others, a way that is inherently valuable to use your time to make the world a better place,” Elkind said.
Elkind hopes that Stuyvesant students will feel motivated to give back to their community as well. “Because you’re at Stuyvesant, you’ve been gifted this amazing opportunity for a world-class public education. You owe something back to your society that’s investing in you. So pay that debt forward with all the vigor that you can.” Elkind said. “There’s no reason that a high school student can’t start a non-profit or latch on to something else and find some other way to be of use. If you see a problem in your community that’s not being addressed by someone else, there is no reason it shouldn’t be you to address it.”