Celebrating Our Students

Rhodes is a special place; we all know that. Our campus beauty, our nationally recognized faculty, our community engagement and service-oriented mindset—however, what really makes Rhodes extraordinary are the students who fill our classrooms, residence halls, and dining facilities.
 

Aylen Mercado ′19

by Kristin Wilkinson ′12

Aylen Mercado, a recent graduate of White Station High School in Memphis, will join the Class of 2019 this fall. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and, like all Rhodes students, Aylen’s interests are many.

She’s traveling to Carnegie Hall in New York City and to Washington, D.C., this summer to accept national awards for her artwork, with one piece being housed in the United States Capitol for the year. Her artwork does more than create a picture—her images evoke reflections on labor rights and on the mental and physical stresses caused by manual labor. She once rode the bus in Memphis to create portraits of riders to promote conversation on our city’s public transportation. According to Aylen, she’s a storyteller, “using [her] artistic lens . . . to serve as the bridge between people and the public.”

Even though Aylen is from Memphis, attending Rhodes wasn’t a given. “I didn’t know where I wanted to go,” she recalls. “I knew there were options open, and I needed to take them.” She toured plenty of schools on her college search, all the while focusing on community engagement. She asked tough questions, researched organizations in the city or towns she visited, and met with current students to determine their personal levels of engagement. At the end of the day, Aylen shares, “I could not detach myself from Memphis and didn’t like thinking about leaving [the city].” And how lucky we are to have her.

Before Aylen passes through the gates on University this fall, she first has a busy summer ahead. On a whim, she applied for a position at Love Pop Soda Shop, a new endeavor in the South Main Arts District. She immediately—and not surprisingly—received a call after sending along her resume, and what she thought would be manual labor and a new experience has turned into a marketing and strategy development position. She’ll also work at both the Dixon Gallery and Gardens and Memphis College of Art, helping to inspire young artists through summer programs she once attended herself.

I have no doubt Aylen will hit the slate running when she gets to Rhodes. As a friend of hers once said, “Aylen is Choose 901,” the Memphis slogan heard throughout the city. “Obviously, we have our issues,” Aylen quickly admits. “Every city does. But there are people who are working to solve them.”

It is easy to see that Aylen Mercado is determined to be part of the solution. “There are so many ways to get involved,” she says. “You don’t have to be a community organizer to work in labor rights or migrant rights. I’m considering being a teacher, or an attorney, or working in community art.”

Perhaps she was destined for Rhodes after all.

 

Adil Khan ′16

by Nicole Lazo ′05

Rhodes’s newest Student Government President, Adil Khan is an all-around amazing guy! In addition to serving as RSG President, he’s also a Resident Assistant and Bonner Scholar, and served as Class Council President as a firstyear.

A rising senior from Little Rock, Arkansas, Adil has made his mark both at Rhodes and in the Memphis community. In his role as president of RSG, he plans to make the organization more approachable and transparent. Says Adil, “We connect students with the resources they need to address issues that they are passionate about.” Beyond the campus, Adil can often be found at Caritas Village, a nonprofit community center for the Binghampton neighborhood. Through interning at Caritas Village, a venue that offers “community events, provides free medical clinics, serves as a fully functioning restaurant, and the list goes on,” Adil realized his passion for servant leadership.

With all that Adil does outside of the classroom, one would think he wouldn’t have enough time for his studies.  However,  that’s far from the truth—he’s pursuing a bridge major of business and economics.  Two introductory level classes had him hooked and, unable to choose between the two majors, he decided to do both.
  
I’m exhausted just hearing about everything Adil is doing around campus. So, I needed to know where he goes to unwind on campus.  He confessed he does spend time every once in a while at the rocking chairs outside of Briggs.  You can find him there just slowing things down and relaxing on a nice Memphis day.  Another thing you can find Adil doing on a nice day is putting his artistic skills to use on Instagram.  When I asked him why Rhodes was the right choice for him, he did not hesitate to mention the obvious beauty of the campus. “The Instagram potential of this college is limitless.”

Jennifer Bitterly ′18

by Mathew Jehl ′13

Jennifer Bitterly just completed her first year at Rhodes, and she is taking this place by storm! I caught up with her via email from Ecuador, where she is taking the Rhodes Spanish-intensive Maymester and enjoying exploring new places and cultures. The experience hasn’t been purely fun-filled. She describes it this way: “Seeing all the poverty and discrimination really makes me want to do something about it, to work from a grassroots level first to understand their culture and ideally improve it somehow.”

This won’t be the first time Jennifer has seen a problem and worked toward finding a solution. As a high school student, she spearheaded and ran a charity that financially supported the rehabilitation of girls and women rescued from the sex-trafficking industry.

Rhodes is opening a world of possibilities for Jennifer. Participating in Rhodes’ top 10 nationally ranked mock trial teams this year has helped inspire her passion for law, and she is considering a career as a trial attorney. “Throughout this experience, I′ve developed my speaking skills, practiced (a lot!) of improvisation and quick-thinking, and learned a lot about our legal system. Mock trial has been the single most influential activity I have participated in thus far at Rhodes, and I′m actually planning on attending law school largely because of this program.”

I′m really going to pour myself into these next years at Rhodes to hopefully find some answers and
solutions to the injustice I see in the world.

In the classroom, Jennifer is not afraid of a challenge. Her favorite class was a 300-level postcolonial literature class. “It turned out to be the most transformative and foundational class I have taken yet. This class examined the subjectivity of truth, memory, and reality, and examined the role that storytelling plays in the creation of history, as well as the fine line between fiction and nonfiction. It was eye-opening, and forced me to re-examine beliefs I had previously passively accepted. Professor Behr is a perfect example of the dynamic, involved teachers that Rhodes strives to fill its faculty staff with. He provided new, ideologically provocative concepts, was always willing to meet and discuss my random musings, could handle students′ trap questions and consequently challenge our beliefs, and understood that the process of learning is dynamic and not dependent on a minute-by-minute syllabus of how the class should go. I feel like that class tore down my flimsy assumptions and forced me to start from the beginning, build a strong foundation, and then evaluate all information based on that foundation so that my new understanding is based on a realization of the endless variety in the world rather than a narrow mental construct, which I really believe is exactly what a liberal arts college should try to do.”

She plans to double major in philosophy and English with a concentration in creative writing, and perhaps minor in Spanish, if her schedule allows.

 Every day that I spend at Rhodes, I am more and more grateful for my decision to join this family.

Aside from her academic experience and extracurricular activities, Jennifer claims the highlight of this year as the ongoing process of developing strong, meaningful friendships with the people around her. “Rhodes brings in so many diverse people, with unique ideologies, passions, and goals, and it has been so fulfilling to learn about my fellow students and see the world through their visions and world views.”

Roc Sherrell ′17

by Katherine Dunbar-Smith ′09

Rising junior Roc Sherrell had a pretty unique year. As the starting running back for the Lynx football team, Roc received All-Conference honors and was named the Offensive Player of the Year, not to mention his dominating 140 yard, three touchdown performance against our friends from Sewanee. All these accolades are made even more impressive by the fact that Roc didn’t actually plan on playing football in college until he received a call from a Rhodes coach.

An Atlanta native, Roc had never actually heard of Rhodes College before that call. He started asking around, and all he heard was how great Rhodes is. When I asked Roc about Rhodes football, he told me that “it can be hard at times, but he loves the people, the travel, and the game days.” But the thing that he loves most is that “the coaches care more about grades than football.”

That’s a good thing, because as a music theory major, Roc has challenged himself inside the classroom. He describes his major classes as “the hardest classes that he takes every semester,” but he “loves breaking down music.” After graduation he hopes to put his degree to use as a sound engineer. This past year he actually had the opportunity to work with a professional sound engineer through the Mike Curb Institute’s Evening at Elvis’, a program that gives students the chance to record music and conduct interviews at Elvis’ first home in Memphis. 

As you can probably tell, music is Roc’s passion. Since 8th grade, he has been a member of a group called S.A.G. with three of his friends from Atlanta. Anytime he is in Atlanta, they get together, perform, and record, but this year he had the chance to do something truly incredible. Competing in the Rhodes Activities Board’s Battle of the Bands, Roc was forced to perform solo because only Rhodes students can participate. That didn’t stop him. Coming in at first place, Roc won the opportunity to open for one of our headliners at Rites of Spring. Thankfully his friends came up from Atlanta and helped him perform, as they opened for B.o.B.   

When I asked Roc what his favorite part of Rhodes is, I expected him to pick one of these different opportunities. Instead, he pointed to the personal attention that he receives from the people at Rhodes. Whether it’s a coach asking about grades, a professor who challenges him to do better, an adviser who cares so much, or a staff member asking about his future plans, Roc credits the people who work at Rhodes for making it so unique.

Katelyn Dagen ′15

Katelyn Dagen ′15 graduated in May as a member of the first class of Clarence Day Scholars, which encourages local high school students to stay in Memphis and make a difference here in our city.
 
When I sat down with Katelyn a couple of weeks ago, she told me about her connection to Memphis. “Growing up in Millington, I basically considered myself a Memphian. However, when I began attending Rhodes, Memphis took on a whole new meaning for me. I was quickly immersed into the city’s culture through experiences within the public school system, non-profit world, arts and music, and various other realms. Now, I realize that I was not a true Memphian until I began attending Rhodes.”
 
As a firstyear, Katelyn immersed herself into the pretty unique community of the Special Olympics of Greater Memphis, where she helped host individuals with intellectual disabilities for recreational and athletic activities on campus every week for four years. She was even willing to do the Polar Bear Plunge into the Mississippi River in the winter to help raise money and awareness for the Special Olympics. In 2013, she decided she could do more, so she started a summer camp at Rhodes for Special Olympics athletes.
 
She found the time for all this in between her academics, her on-campus job, and her many other activities on campus. Even though it has only been a few weeks, Katelyn told me, “I am already missing the energy and atmosphere created by the students, faculty, and staff. Rhodes is a special place for so many reasons, but the passion within the hearts and minds of the community members ultimately drives the college.”

Katelyn was recognized for her passion and commitment to the Rhodes and Memphis communities this year at graduation when she received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, an annual award that recognizes two students who have given selflessly to others and the college. Earlier in the year, she was also selected by her peers to be Ms. Rhodes.

We will definitely miss Katelyn’s passion on campus, and we can’t wait to see what she does in the Memphis and world communities moving forward! 

  * * *