Michael O’Keefe was at home, enjoying a little rest and relaxation before his wind ensemble rehearsal, when the phone call came.
“I remember it in slow motion, it felt surreal,” said the fourth year School of Music student, who scarcely believed what the voice on the other end of the line was telling him.
He’d been named the 2018 Rhodes Scholar for Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I think my response was, ‘Wow, that’s incredible,’” he recalled of the moment.
“I was truly speechless. I went into the next room to tell my mom and she actually picked me up off the ground! That is no small feat considering her size compared to mine.”
Just that morning, Mr. O’Keefe completed two days of intensive scrutiny as a finalist for the scholarship.
The prestigious award is presented each year to 11 Canadian students, including one from Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I have long wanted to live and study in the U.K.,” said Mr. O’Keefe, a double major in trumpet performance and musicology who had visited Oxford with music school friends in 2015 during studies at Memorial’s Harlow Campus.
“The historical perspective of its universities and the vibrancy of its arts community are unparalleled.”
Established in 1903, the Rhodes Scholarship Program consists of postgraduate awards supporting outstanding all-around students at the University of Oxford, providing transformative opportunities for exceptional individuals.
“He has so much potential to make the world a better place.”
The Rhodes application process was a daunting and time-consuming one, says Mr. O’Keefe. But his professors, friends and family believed so strongly in the young musician’s candidacy that he says he was motivated to make his goal a reality.
“Michael is in every respect an exceptional individual,” said Dr. Ian Sutherland, dean, School of Music.
“A musician, a scholar, a humanitarian, a policy-shaper. This opportunity at Oxford is life-changing. He has so much potential to make the world a better place. The School of Music could not be more proud of him.”
Music and people
“You know, I could have never imagined how well the School of Music would prepare me for this step,” said Mr. O’Keefe, who has been active in student government since his first year at Memorial.
“I believe that the support and opportunities available to students here are second to none.”
Passionate about music, Mr. O’Keefe performs extensively with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, with School of Music ensembles and as a soloist.
He’s also intensely interested in the relationship between music and people, how it influences policy, justice and inclusivity, and its capacity to bring people of diverse backgrounds together.
“I intend to pursue music and public policy studies, furthering both my musicianship and my research on the nexus between arts and culture and public policy.”
He was recently named one of 20 university students — 10 from Canada, 10 from the U.S. — selected to attend the Fulbright Canada Youth Institute on Canada in the World.
The next step on his Oxford journey is to apply and be placed in one of the university’s colleges.
“I am very excited to get started,” said Mr. O’Keefe. “I intend to pursue music and public policy studies, furthering both my musicianship and my research on the nexus between arts and culture and public policy.
“The great thing about studying at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar is that it will open many more doors than it will close,” he continued. “I look forward to growing as a person, a musician, a researcher, and I look forward to forging new relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Mr. O’Keefe is the second School of Music student to be named a Rhodes Scholar. Anthony Payne, who earned music and science degrees at Memorial, was awarded the scholarship in 2013.