Fw: NYTimes.com Article: From Radical Background, a Rhodes Scholar Emerges
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Mon Dec 9 12:00:52 MST 2002
>From Radical Background, a Rhodes Scholar Emerges
December 9, 2002
By JODI WILGOREN
CHICAGO, Dec. 8 - As with the other triumphs of his young
life, Chesa Boudin was unable to celebrate with his parents
on Saturday afternoon when he was named a Rhodes scholar.
He could not even share the good news.
As maximum-security inmates in the New York State prison
system, Katherine Boudin and David Gilbert are barred from
receiving telephone calls or e-mail messages. Though Mr.
Boudin has rigged his dorm room at Yale University to
override the block on collect calls, neither parent was
able to connect with him today. They will read of their
son's accomplishment in the newspaper, instead, and it may
be days before they can congratulate him.
Mr. Boudin, 22, is used to it. His parents, members of the
1970's radical group the Weathermen, have been in prison
since he was 14 months old, for roles in a 1981 Brink's
robbery in Rockland County in which two police officers and
a guard were killed. They missed his Phi Beta Kappa award,
high school graduation, Little League games.
"When I was younger, I was angry," Mr. Boudin, a tall,
clean-cut young man said in an interview here Saturday
evening, looking comfortable in the navy pinstriped suit he
had worn for the Rhodes interview, though the tie was long
"Now I'm not angry," he said, "I'm sad that my parents have
to suffer what they have to suffer on a daily basis, that
millions of other people have to suffer as well."
Raised by two other Weathermen leaders, Bill Ayers and
Bernardine Dohrn, in Chicago's Hyde Park, he is one of 32
American winners of this year's Rhodes scholarships. It is
a remarkable achievement for a boy with epilepsy and
dyslexia who did not learn to read until third grade and
spent much of his childhood in temper tantrums. His
selection also reflects the changes in the nation's premier
academic award in its 100th year: once an exclusive club of
Ivy League athletes, the Rhodes in recent years has
rewarded an array of students who have overcome striking
Among the other winners announced today are Kamyar Cyrus
Habib, a Columbia University student from Kirkland, Wash.,
who is a black belt in karate, a downhill skier and a
published photographer - as well as blind; Marianna Ofusu,
who attends Howard University in Washington and is a Latin
American dance champion; and Devi Shridhar of the
University of Miami, who at 18 has mastered five languages,
published a book on Indian myths and been admitted to
Thirteen of the winners are from Ivy League schools, four
from Harvard, but the class also includes the first Rhodes
scholar from the University of Central Florida, and
students at state universities in Indiana, Kansas,
Minnesota and Utah.
Established by the will of the British colonialist Cecil
Rhodes in 1902, the scholarship offers a bachelor's,
master's or doctoral degree at Oxford University, a value
estimated at about $30,000 a year. Bill Clinton, Bill
Bradley, Byron White and Dean Rusk are among the 2,982
Americans from 305 colleges and universities who have won
Mr. Boudin is not the first child of convicts to be chosen;
Adam Ake, the son of a gynecologist convicted of raping
patients, was in the Rhodes class of 1997. But the
political pedigrees of Mr. Boudin's parents, biological and
adoptive, present a contrast with that of the British
imperialist who established the prestigious scholarship in
"Cecil Rhodes, I don't know what would he think if he were
alive today; he'd probably be horrified," Ms. Dohrn, a
professor at Northwestern law school, said, laughing, in
her office, where snapshots of her children at play are
interspersed with the memorabilia of a radical life.
Dennis Hutchinson, a law professor at the University of
Chicago who headed the Midwest selection committee, said
Mr. Boudin's family did not come up at the Friday night
cocktail party or the 20-minute interview Saturday morning,
as the winners were whittled from 98 finalists. Those
finalists had been selected from 981 university nominees.
"That's one of the wonderful things about institutions,
they adapt to the times," Professor Hutchinson, a Rhodes
scholar in 1970, said. "This is a guy who talks not only
with passion but with mature, thoughtful information about
the things he cares about. Those are the sorts of qualities
that separate good résumés from the people who are willing
to fight the world's fight, as the will says."
Mr. Boudin, who has spoken widely about being the child of
inmates and has led antiwar efforts at Yale, plans to study
international development at Oxford, expanding on his
experiences in Guatemala and Chile. Last week he won the
Marshall scholarship, a similar award financing study in
Britain, but he plans to accept the Rhodes instead. "As a
child, I relished my personal freedom and tried to
compensate for my parents' imprisonment," he wrote in his
application. "Now, I see prisons around the world: urban
misery in Bolivia, homelessness in Santiago and illiteracy
Mr. Boudin's mother was denied parole in 2001. His father
is serving 75 years. Each writes to him nearly every day.
His adoptive parents were engulfed by controversy when
Sept. 11 coincided with the publication of Mr. Ayers's
memoir, "Fugitive Days," which celebrated attempted
bombings on the Pentagon.
"We have a different name for the war we're fighting now -
now we call it the war on terrorism, then they called it
the war on communism," Mr. Boudin said. "My parents were
all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the
world. I'm dedicated to the same thing."
"I don't know that much about my parents' tactics; I'll
talk about my tactics," he added. "The historical moment we
find ourselves in determines what is most appropriate for
Mr. Boudin said that with four loving parents, he was
always surrounded by high expectations, unlike many other
children of convicts. He sees his name - Swahili for
"dancing feet," chosen because he was born breech - as a
metaphor for his approach to life (though actual dancing is
among his few weaknesses).
For a career, Mr. Boudin plans to focus on international
problems because criminal justice is "too close to home."
He plans to finish his own memoir this summer. "It's about
growing up with parents in prison; it's about growing up in
America," he said. "It's about two very different worlds,
one of extreme privilege and opportunity, and the other of
degradation and humiliation."
Mr. Boudin shunned questions about his parents' prospects
for parole, and Mr. Ayers and Ms. Dohrn repeatedly tried to
steer the conversation onto the next generation. A red-star
revolutionary pin on his jacket, his Weatherman tattoo (and
17 others) hidden from sight, Mr. Ayers smiled as he
watched his adopted son, fresh from his Rhodes interview,
in the suit that Ms. Dohrn had helped pick.
"You know what I love about listening to Chesa?" Mr. Ayers
said. "He confirms the natural cycle that your kids are
always so much smarter and better than you."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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