TRENTON, N.J. - A student from New Jersey who leads weekly poetry classes at a maximum-security prison is among 32 Americans selected as Rhodes Scholars for 2010.
Zohar Atkins of Montclair, currently a senior at Brown University, said Sunday that he was "very, very excited" when he received the news Saturday night, shortly after interviewing with a selection committee. "It was very unexpected, and I'm really looking forward to the experience."
The oldest of three children, Atkins is working toward a bachelors degree in classics and Judaic studies and a masters degree in history from the Ivy League school, where he serves as a trustee and prayer leader at the Brown-RISD Hillel, the campus' Jewish organization. He also has published many poems and articles in the humanities, and is a violinist and fiddler.
"I grew up steeped in poetry and religiosity, and they are among the many things I enjoy," he said, adding that he enjoys his demanding schedule. "The poetry classes, writing poems, I don't see that as work, but rather things that provide me with a break from school while also complementing my studies."
Atkins says he has always enjoyed literature, but that interest became stronger after he headed off to college.
"When I first came to Brown, I intended to major in history," he said. "But I was so moved by the (literary) classes I took in my first semester there that I developed a strong desire to study the classics and read them in their original languages."
A Brooklyn, N.Y. native, Atkins' family moved to Montclair when he was five. A product of the town's school system, he feels "blessed" to have grown up in the northern Jersey community.
"I owe a lot to my parents, my synagogue, and the school system, all of which helped me accomplish my dreams, as well as the incredibly rich education I've received at Brown," he said.
Atkins will graduate from the Rhode Island school next year, and expects to head to England sometime around October 2010.
The Rhodes scholarship provides all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford, where Atkins plans to pursue a doctorate in theology, pursuing his interest in breaking down the traditional dichotomy between humanity and God.