UCLA senior from Alamo among 32 Rhodes scholars

By Steve Rubenstein
San Francisco Chronicle

Man is not perfect and neither is Scott Hugo, the Bay Area's only homegrown 2009 Rhodes scholar. 

That's because Scott Hugo once received a grade other than an A.

He received an A-minus.

It appears to have been a life-altering experience. It certainly sent his grade-point average plummeting, from a perfect 4.0 to a measly 3.98.

"People shouldn't be perfect," Hugo said Sunday. "It means you're not challenging yourself enough."

Hugo, a 22-year-old college senior from Alamo, found out late Saturday that he had been named one of 32 U.S. recipients of the world's most prestigious scholarship. He is currently studying political science and history at UCLA.

But it might never have happened, had Hugo not turned his life around after a middling midterm essay he wrote for a freshman history class, something about the battle of Gettysburg.

The professor said he could have done better. The professor, Hugo recalled, said the essay "needed a more logical flow." The professor gave him a B on the essay and an A-minus in the class.

The memory lingers still.

"These kinds of things happen to all of us," Hugo said on Sunday, trying to make light of his flirtation with catastrophe three years ago.

Hugo, the son of Pamela and Gregory Hugo, will spend his two years as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in Britain, studying international relations. He plans to focus on the role of the United States in the world.

That role, Hugo said, is bound to be better after the election of Barack Obama. Hugo worked as an Obama volunteer over the past year.

"His leadership style and approach are garnering considerable international support," Hugo said of the president-elect. "His election has generated a significant amount of goodwill."

Hugo graduated from De La Salle High School in Concord before enrolling at UCLA. He plays flanker on the UCLA rugby team and is looking forward to playing more of it in England, a place where they take their rugby even more seriously than they do in Los Angeles.

Among the other recipients of the scholarship with local ties are Noelle Lopez of Tucson, a student at Santa Clara University, and Sarah Kleinman of Indianapolis, a student at Stanford University.

This year, more than 1,500 students applied for the scholarship and then underwent a rigorous series of interviews examining academic achievement, character, leadership and such qualities as "physical vigor and a spirit of unselfishness," according to a statement on the Rhodes Trust's Web site.

That spirit of unselfishness is something Hugo appears to possess. He said that, while he may study up to six hours a night, he enjoys nothing so much as doing the dishes and taking out the trash while at home in Alamo during college breaks.

"I like doing anything that keeps my parents happy," he said, demonstrating that sound international relations begin at home.