Preparing Boys for Life.
The most wonderful time of the year
Dr. John Nagl, Ninth Headmaster

In this blog post, Headmaster John Nagl reflects on the events that make December a particularly special time for him, including the annual Army-Navy football game and the selection of Rhodes and Schwarzman Scholars. 

The month of December is a particular favorite of mine. If it is not “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes, it’s certainly close – not just because of family gatherings for the holidays, although that is a great joy. There are other momentous events that occur every year in December that underline this month for me.

One is the greatest sporting event of the year, the Army-Navy football game, held this year as it is most years in our own City of Brotherly Love. (Philadelphia is the biggest city that is roughly equidistant between Annapolis and West Point, and also famous for hosting a good party.) The game itself has been described as the only one all year where everyone playing is willing to die for anyone watching, and after too many years of Navy dominance, competitive equilibrium has returned. Most years the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is on the line, and the President often attends in person, as he will this year. Some of the suspense is gone since Army has already locked down the Trophy, awarded to the best of the three Service Academy football teams.

The other annual event that makes December so special for me is the selection of Rhodes Scholars.  Thirty-one years ago this month, I was selected as one of 32 Rhodes Scholars from across the entire United States to earn two years of graduate study at Oxford University. Rhodes Scholars are selected for their academic and leadership ability, for their “fondness for and success in sports,” and for their commitment to “fight the world’s fight.” It so happens that the day I was selected was also the day of the Army-Navy Game; while waiting to learn whether I would be going to Oxford, I slipped downstairs into the lobby of the hotel where the interviews were being conducted to check on the score.  Army won, and so did I, an event that has changed my life dramatically.

While waiting to learn whether I would be going to Oxford, I slipped downstairs into the lobby of the hotel where the interviews were being conducted to check on the score.  Army won, and so did I, an event that has changed my life dramatically.

I not only attended Oxford for two years as a Rhodes Scholar, earning my master’s degree in International Relations, but also went back to Oxford after serving in Operation Desert Storm to “read” for my doctorate, courtesy of the U.S. Army. Afterward, I taught at West Point and prepared another generation of West Point cadets to compete for Rhodes, Marshall, and Truman Scholarships, and served on Rhodes Scholarship selection committees in Vermont and Arkansas. It was a joy working with the best that West Point had to offer, and then comparing those young men and women with the best from across our great nation, and I have missed that experience for the past decade or so.

This year, December again became a time of scholarship for me as I was invited to serve on a selection committee for Schwarzman Scholars. This program, modeled in part on the Rhodes, sends very talented college graduates to study at Tsinghua University for a year. With other professors and politicians and dignitaries, many of them recipients of various postgraduate fellowships themselves, I pored over written applications and conducted interviews of a dozen scholars, five of whom, it was announced this week, earned the honor of being known forever as a Schwarzman Scholar. Their lives will forever be changed, and I was inspired by meeting them to believe that the future of our nation – and the world – is bright.

Their lives will forever be changed, and I was inspired by meeting them to believe that the future of our nation – and the world – is bright.

Serendipitously, a few days after my participation in the Schwarzman interviews, I met a recent Haverford School graduate for breakfast at his request. Having studied Chinese at Haverford, and continued his studies of the language in college, he is considering applying to be a Schwarzman Scholar himself. Fortified by my recent experience, I was able to give him a few tips that I hope will prove useful as he continues to prepare himself for a great life experience – competing for, and with a little luck, being selected for, a postgraduate scholarship that will change his life. In time, perhaps, he too will help prepare young people for the honor of competing at this level, and may even serve on a selection committee himself.

That thought makes me quietly happy. The thought of Army beating Navy again this Saturday, of course, also makes me happy, but there’s nothing quiet about it!

I hope that this time of year brings you as much joy as it does to me.
 

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