Portsmouth Abbey grad named Rhodes Scholar


She and her sister are  first sisters to both win the award

PORTSMOUTH – Portsmouth Abbey alumna Naseemah Mohamed, Class of 2008, has been named a 2013 Rhodes Scholar. Naseemah was one of 83 men and woman from around the globe chosen to receive what is the oldest and arguably most prestigious graduate scholarship in the world.

After graduating from the Abbey, Naseemah attended Harvard University, where she received a B.A. degree cum laude in Social Studies and African Studies last spring.

While there, she distinguished herself with an impressive array of accomplishments: she was president of the African Students Association; co-director for the Pan African Drum and Dance Ensemble; secretary for the Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa; and, as her senior thesis, founded the Zilolonge Arts-Literacy Project, which pairs teachers and artists to facilitate arts-based learning at a school in her hometown of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Naseemah was awarded the Dorothy Lee Hicks Award at Harvard for the "most outstanding thesis concerning African and African American literature in the university." For her work throughout four years at the university, she received a Harvard Foundation Insignia Award for "outstanding contributions to race and culture relations at Harvard University" and the Maurice Sedwell Lt. Award as the student who most embodies the values of the African and African American Studies Department. Naseemah was also awarded the 2012 Harvard Women's Leadership Award. She now works for the Center for African Cultural Excellence, an organization she co-founded earlier this year to broaden understanding of African cultural traditions.

Naseemah is in Zimbabwe until January, when she will return to the village in India where she has been learning Indian classical dance as a Harvard Michael C. Rockefeller Fellowship recipient. She will remain in India until next fall, when she will begin her studies at Oxford.

"Until attending Portsmouth Abbey, I had not realized my full potential," she said. "At Portsmouth, I met teachers who deeply cared about me, and I took classes such as Humanities that challenged me intellectually. In fact, my sophomore Humanities class inspired me to become a Social Studies major at Harvard University. When I wanted to bridge the cultural gap between my American peers and myself, the School supported me in starting the Portsmouth Abbey Human Rights group on campus, which focused on current events and human rights issues on the African continent.

"I have no doubt in my mind that I would not be where I am today without the love and support of the Portsmouth Abbey community—from the monks, to my amazing dorm parents, to the kitchen staff who used to save me my favorite cheesecake dessert! I truly felt like I was part of a community; I am proud to say that, for four years, Portsmouth Abbey was my home."

While at Oxford, Naseemah plans to study education policy or international development so that, ultimately, she can pursue her passion — education reform — in her home country and beyond. "Winning the Rhodes for me is a testimony to the power of educational opportunities making possible the dreams one thought would never come true."

EJ Dionne '69, the only other Portsmouth graduate to have won a Rhodes Scholarship, offered his congratulations to Naseemah: "It is exciting that Naseemah has won a Rhodes Scholarship, and I know the whole Portsmouth community is cheering for her. I suspect she'll find during her time at Oxford, as I did, that what she learned at Portsmouth will keep coming back to her again and again."

As if being named a Rhodes Scholar is not enough of an achievement, Naseemah and her older sister, Shazrene, now hold the distinction of being the only sisters who have won a Rhodes Scholarship in the 109-year history of the scholarship program. Shazrene, an astrophysicist and, like Naseemah, a graduate of Harvard, was the recipient of a Rhodes in 2004.


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