MIAMI – James O’Connell, a Tampa native and Wake Forest University honors graduate, has big plans after studying at Oxford University as a newly-minted Rhodes Scholar.
He wants to join the U.S. Navy and become part of the elite SEALS unit.
“The dream for after Oxford is to join the SEAL teams. But that’s much easier said than done. I’m ready to work for it, though,” O’Connell said in an interview Sunday.
O’Connell, a 2009 graduate of Plant High School, has been chosen as one of 32 scholars by the Rhodes Trust, as announced early Sunday. He and the others will begin their year studying at Oxford in the fall.
At Wake Forest, O’Connell majored in politics and international affairs, writing his senior thesis on al-Qaida after Osama Bin Laden. He is currently on a one-year assignment in the office of Wake Forest President Nathan O. Hatch. O’Connell described Hatch as a key mentor in his life.
“Seldom have I met a young person with a more inquisitive mind or a wider range of intellectual interests,” Hatch said in a statement. “Jim is also a tremendous ‘relater’ to other people. He reaches out in deliberate and effective ways to better understand a subject or individual.”
O’Connell said he will enter the master’s in public policy program at Oxford, which he described as geared toward all aspects of policymaking, from budgeting and data analysis to negotiations and conflict resolution.
“They’ve got this pretty great approach of training in every skill that policymakers in the 21st century will need,” he said.
After that he wants to go to officer candidate school in the Navy, and if not the SEALS then O’Connell said he’s interested in intelligence or surface warfare duties.
O’Connell was a student member of the Wake Forest Board of Trustees and a chair of the Honor Council. He has written one feature length screenplay – he said it is a political thriller that grew out of his al-Qaida thesis – as well as three short films, and he hosted a radio show on film and culture. He also led an effort to create a center at Wake Forest for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and organized events surrounding the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of the university.
O’Connell said his single mother, who runs an in-home infant care business, and many people at Wake Forest deserve credit for his selections as a Rhodes Scholar.
“I’m incredibly humbled. It’s a situation where I got the recognition, but in reality it’s a team effort,” he said.