Fourth-year St. Thomas University student Ethan Nylen remembers being on the edge of his seat as he prepared for an interview in the hopes of receiving the Rhodes Scholarship. 

Nylen, who is honouring in great books and majoring in political science, was awarded the scholarship, one of the world’s most prestigious honours, allowing him to continue his postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford in England.

“I just feel super blessed to have so many people behind me,” he said.

Rhodes Scholars are selected internationally based on academic merits, scholastic attainment and moral character.

Nylen was one of the eight finalists across the maritimes and got to meet the other nominees at a dinner held at a hotel in Halifax on Nov. 11.

“It is very clear that it is also a part of the interview process. How you can hold yourself in social situations,” he said. “That was a bit nerve-wracking.”

The next day, Nylen had his interview with the scholarship’s selection committee. 

“I left thinking ‘you know what? I did okay, but I don’t know if I really won that because they were really pushing me on questions,’” said Nylen, noting this was one of the hardest interviews of his life.

He received the news later that night and he called and texted his loved ones about it.

Nylen also texted his mentor, Matt Dinan, an associate professor and director of great books at STU, to let him know he won the Rhodes Scholarship.

Dinan said he and his wife, Vivien Zelazny, were excited to hear the news.

“I knew that she would be just as excited as I was to hear that because she was also one of his recommendations,” he said.

Dinan said Nylen is a student with a high character, a great academic record and kind nature.

“He is one of the most humble people I’ve ever met …  and I think that’s really funny. I’m quite happy to brag even if he’s too humble to do it himself,” he said.

Nylen will attend Oxford to study political theory and will either stay in academia or work in the non-profit sector as both of his parents work with a charity.

“I guess you could say it’s the family business,” he said. 

He said he sees himself helping to educate disadvantaged people in the Maritimes. He is already on track after founding the GED program with the help of Campus Ministry, which helps people without a high school diploma get their general education development. 

“I hope to work providing education to marginal communities,” Nylen said. “I can see myself working at the Halifax Communities project, which is like a great book education for those experiencing homelessness.”

He added that the great books program is dignifying and provides people with introspection and confidence.

“It provides people with dignity, the ability to think through problems, state what they’re feeling strongly and have the competence and the freedom to really engage intellectually,” said Nylen.