Rhodes Senior Headed for Asia to Study Local Politics

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Publication Date: 3/24/2008


Zac Hill

For the second year in a row, a Rhodes student has been awarded a Luce Scholarship, an exclusive post-graduate fellowship that most often goes to masters’ degree candidates at large research institutions. Zac Hill, a senior from Memphis, will be engaged in a year-long internship in political journalism, covering local elections for an English-language newspaper in an as-yet-undetermined country in East or Southeast Asia.

In 2005, Rhodes College joined a distinguished group of only 67 institutions invited to nominate students for the program. Impressed with the leadership of Rhodes president William E. Troutt  who led the institution through the strategic planning process that culminated in the Rhodes Vision, Luce trustee James Laney of Atlanta was instrumental in the college’s being invited to participate.

Hill, who graduates from Rhodes in May, follows Aaron Creek of Springdale, Ark., who is completing his year in the Philippines working on healthcare and disaster management with the Philippine National Red Cross. Thus, Rhodes has had a successful candidate for the scholarship both years it has participated.

Both Creek and Hill emphasize the grueling nature of the selection process. “All the people invited to Washington for the final round were brilliant and driven,” Hill recalls. He was impressed that a number of former Luce Scholars had traveled to Washington at their own expense to meet this year’s candidates and have a reunion with the staff. “Clearly this is not an experience you forget about when it’s over,” he continues. “Aaron told me that his year in Asia has been very hard work and it has grown him as a person. That’s what’s important to me.”

Hill credits his experience with the award-winning Rhodes Mock Trial team for his successful interview. “Two of the judges asked me how I got to be so comfortable on my feet and I told them it came from three years of working under the direction of Professor Marcus Pohlmann. It’s a great way to learn to distill and present information effectively.” He also credits Professor Julia “Cookie” Ewing’s acting class. “It’s one of the most grueling things I’ve ever done,” he says.

Although he admits to some uneasiness about moving to a different part of the world with no local contacts, Hill is an experienced traveler thanks to his involvement on the Pro Tour of the card game Magic. In addition to helping to finance his college experience, this involvement “has taken me all over the world,” he says. “Some of my closest friends live in Belgium.”

While he is entertaining the idea of law school after he finishes the Luce program, Hill’s major ambition is to continue in the United States the experience he will have in Asia. “I want to make local politics more interesting to voters,” he explains. “Most people can’t even tell you who’s running for local elections but those are the people who can have a major impact on your life. I’m hoping to address the issue with broader, more interesting coverage.”

Hill has spent most of his short life preparing for such a career. He wrote his first article, “a scathing review,” for the Lausanne student newspaper as a third grader and worked on the paper throughout high school. He has done internships at The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer. And he writes for pleasure. “I write feverishly, 2000-3000 words a day. It’s an addiction. I can’t stop myself.”

Is he “driven” then, as he describes the other Luce finalists? “I wouldn’t say I’m competitive,” he says. “I don’t care about beating others. I judge myself by the number of goals I achieve. Everyone has ideas. Ideas are not enough.”