‘Putting Education First’ Rhodes Scholar says parents rewarded achievements in the classroom over football field. - Higher Education

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‘Putting Education First’ Rhodes Scholar says parents rewarded achievements in the classroom over football field.

by Lois Elfman

Many boys fantasize about becoming stars on the football field or basketball court when they grow up and earning millions of dollars in endorsement deals.

Myron Rolle had a different dream.

“When I was younger, I’d get straight A’s in school and my parents would get me two pizza pies from my favorite Italian restaurant in New Jersey,” says Rolle, junior safety for the Florida State University Seminoles and recently named Rhodes Scholar.

“If I scored a touchdown or scored 20 points in a basketball game, hit two runs in baseball, they’d give me a pat on the back and say, ‘Good job,’” Rolle recalls of his childhood. “The reward was different. At that point, I realized how significant it was for me to do well in school and how much it meant to them.”

It’s bowl season in college football and FSU triumphed over the University of Wisconsin 42-13 in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 27. It was the final college game for Rolle. But he’s not leaving to join the National Football League; Rolle, instead, is headed to Oxford.

The 22-year-old, who has already completed a bachelor’s degree in exercise science with a concentration in pre-med in just two-and-a-half years, is one of 32 U.S. students who have been awarded an all-expense paid scholarship for up to three years of study at Oxford University in England.

While he still fancies life as a professional football player (there is a slight chance Rolle may enter the NFL draft), Rolle says his long-term goal is to attend medical school and ultimately set up a clinic in the Bahamas. At Oxford, he will pursue a degree in medical anthropology.

“This degree looks at global issues of health care in medicine, especially in impoverished or third world countries.

“I’ve worked very hard my entire life — putting education first,” says Rolle, an aspiring neurosurgeon. “Obviously, trying to do my best in sports as well, but understanding what my priorities are and where I want my life to go. I’ve tried to set the bar very high for myself. I’m humble enough to recognize that the Lord has blessed me with some great abilities, great parents and family and people around me that have supported me, prayed for me and helped me get to where I am today.”

Rolle’s parents, Whitney and Beverly Rolle, immigrated to the United States in 1980 from Nassau, Bahamas. Their three oldest sons were born in the Bahamas, and their two youngest, McKinley, 24, and Myron, 22, were born in New Jersey. All of the boys were active in sports, although only Myron played at the collegiate level, but there was a house rule — no practice until their homework was done.

Prior to enrolling at FSU, Rolle attended two private schools — the Peddie School in Highstown, N.J., and The Hun School of Princeton (N.J.). After a stellar high school football career, he received 83 athletic scholarship offers for college.

Coaches from around the country tried to recruit him, each trying to find the most effective selling tool. Some talked to his mother. Some tried to get a teammate to persuade him. Rolle says FSU offered the perfect balance. Although Rolle is the first FSU football player to ever win the Rhodes, he is the third FSU student in four years to attain the honor.

Rolle admits he was concerned with how a Northern preppie such as himself would fit in with his teammates at FSU, but he found common bonds. After winning the Rhodes, he spoke to his teammates about his initial nervousness and how much he appreciated them accepting his individuality.

“They were committed to my success in the classroom just as much as my success on the football field,” explains Rolle, who also met with the president and provost of the university as well as a biology professor during his recruiting visit.

Myron’s father, Whitney Rolle, believes the Rhodes Scholarship will change how his son views the world. “Having the Rhodes Scholarship could set him on a path in life where he could contribute a lot more. It will give him a bigger platform to work from,” he says. The senior Rolle admits he is a bit in awe of what his son has achieved, although he has always supported his son’s desire to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship and knew he had the abilities.

One thing that did not concern him was that his son could balance the demands of college football with his academic aspirations. “Myron was always well organized,” says his father. “At the Hun and the Peddie schools, the way they set up their curriculum reinforced time management. It was almost essential you had a handle on that.”

Hun was a boarding school. It was near his father’s workplace so they often saw each other during the day. His mother didn’t get as much face time. So after missing time with him during his teenage years, Beverly Rolle moved to Florida to be closer to her son during his college years.

Rolle’s abilities on and off the playing field have been witnessed by a diverse range of people. “Myron is an extraordinary young man,” says Russ Brown, principal of the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School. The school is on a Seminole reservation in Okeechobee, Fla., where Rolle mentored fifth-graders on how to avoid developing diabetes and obesity in a program he created called Highway to Health.

“(Students) saw how he’s so focused on education,” adds Brown. “We continue to talk about Myron today because he was such a good role model from both directions, academics and athletics.”

Rolle says he found the mentoring experience incredibly fulfilling and he treasures the thank-you notes he received from the students.

Only 1.8 percent of all college football players ever play professionally, according to the NCAA; and a report released in early December by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport showed that about 59 percent of African-American football student-athletes graduate from college.

Rolle says he’d like to see those numbers improve and hopes to serve as a role model for other students to pursue academic excellence as well as athletic success.

He also wants to see universities place greater emphasis on the “student” part of student-athlete from the first day players step on campus. He encourages student-athletes to take initiative. “Don’t take the classes that can just get you by,” Rolle says, “because you’re not learning anything that way and you’re not improving and bettering yourself.”

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