Swarthmore native, his girlfriend among 32 Rhodes scholars

Jan Hefler
Philadelphia Inquirer

There won't be any tearful goodbyes between Swarthmore native Henry Spelman and his sweetie when he heads to the University of Oxford next fall, after winning a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship on Saturday.

That's because Libby Longino, his girlfriend, also was among the 32 students nationwide who were named 2010 Rhodes scholars, following in the footsteps of former President Bill Clinton and former Sen. Bill Bradley (D., N.J.), among others.

Spelman wants to pursue a doctorate in Latin and Greek, while Longino, of Dallas, Texas, will research human trafficking at the renowned institution in England.

The two are seniors at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. They met in the summer of 2008 during a research program in Turkey. The summer before, Spelman worked at a refugee camp in Tanzania, under the auspices of the United Nations, and counseled displaced Burundians. Longino studied human trafficking in Bosnia-Herzegovina and helped start a foundation in Cambodia to stop child prostitution.

Spelman said yesterday that he "will never forget" the moment he learned he was selected to the Rhodes program, but that the "really cool" part is his girlfriend was chosen, too.

"We're going to Oxford as a couple, and we'll see what happens," Spelman said coyly when asked about the seriousness of their relationship.

Longino said that she, too, was excited that they both would be going. "I could barely hope it would turn out this way.

The Rhodes Scholarships, which began in 1902, pay tuition, board, and living expenses for two to four years of study at Oxford. The value of a scholarship is about $50,000 a year, depending on the course of study.

The program began under the will of British mining executive and philanthropist Cecil Rhodes and is designed to bring together "outstanding students" from around the world, according to its Web site. About 80 students are chosen for the program each year.

The criteria are "high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor."

Spelman, 22, was selected for the Rhodes program after an interview process in Philadelphia, while Longino was chosen in Houston. Yesterday, the two were reunited and returned to campus, where they were interviewed by the university newspaper.

"It's an immense honor," Spelman said.

The aspiring professor of Latin and Greek languages grew up in Swarthmore and attended the Hill School in Pottstown before enrolling at UNC as a classical-languages major. He received a full scholarship.

Spelman said he wanted to spend his career "trying to figure out what ancient poets are telling" mankind. He especially likes Homer and believes the poet of The Iliad and The Odyssey wanted people to have empathy because "we're all winners and losers in life, and ultimately we are all losers in death," Spelman said.

With a minor in creative writing, Spelman also was named the editor of the Cellar Door, a campus literary magazine. He writes poetry, plays squash, and is a member of Chi Psi fraternity and the Amnesty International Refugee Steering Committee.

Longino, who has a double major in public policy and English, is with the Alpha Delta Pi sorority.

Both were staying at a hostel in Turkey while doing research when "our paths crossed," Spelman said.

Now, they will be together at the oldest university in the English-speaking world.