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Two students with Chicago ties win 2014 Rhodes scholarships

Oak Brook native  Yale University student Vinay Nayak. He is among 32 American 2014 Rhodes Scholars announced Sunday. (AP

Oak Brook native and Yale University student Vinay Nayak. He is among the 32 American 2014 Rhodes Scholars announced Sunday. (AP Photo/courtesy of Vinay Nayak)

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Updated: December 26, 2013 6:26AM



One is a former White House intern and current political science major who overcame a father who was a key figure in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.

The other is a Zen Buddhist living with cerebral palsy and dedicated to tackling global warming.

Vinay Nayak and Sam Greene, two college students with Chicago-area connections, are set to travel to the University of Oxford, among the 32 American recipients of Rhodes scholarships for 2014.

Nayak, who graduated in 2010 as co-valedictorian at Hinsdale Central High School and is a senior at Yale University, said he is “humbled” to have the chance to study at Oxford.

“When they announced my name, I couldn’t believe it,” Nayak wrote in an email Sunday to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I don’t think I’ve yet fully processed this amazing opportunity that I have been given, and I hope to make the most of it when I study at Oxford.”

Nayak, who was a summer 2013 intern at the White House, plans to work toward a master of public policy at Oxford.

“I believe strongly that every person — regardless or race, class or geography — should have an equal voice in the political process,” said Nayak.

His father, Raghuveer Nayak, the wealthy fund-raiser for convicted politicians Jesse Jackson Jr. and Rod Blagojevich, pleaded guilty in September to health-care fraud. Now in his late 50s, the pharmacist and surgery center owner is awaiting sentencing in that case. During Blagojevich’s second trial, prosecutors referred to the elder Nayak as the “bribe guy,” who in 2008 allegedly offered millions of dollars to Blagojevich’s brother in exchange for appointing then-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to Obama’s vacant Senate seat. Nayak has never been charged criminally in connection with those allegations.

Greene is a senior at the University of Chicago, where he is simultaneously pursuing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemistry. Greene, who is from Spring Green, Wisc., said he plans to study theoretical quantum mechanics while in England. Greene has faced many challenges through the years. He was a baby when he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

“I’ve learned a lot from facing those challenges,” he told the Sun-Times. “I walk on my own just fine. I enjoy hiking and doing things outdoors. I just need to be more aware of how I walk and what my balance is doing.”

Greene’s father is a Zen Buddhist priest, and Greene said he follows those teachings.

“What happens in my mind depends on what is happening in my body, and vice versa,” Greene said. “Because of my disability, I have an acute awareness of how the two are connected.”

He said he hopes his studies might eventually help to combat global warming.

Rhodes scholarships were established in 1904 by the estate of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist. Rhodes said he hoped bringing students to Oxford would help promote international peace and understanding. In his will, Rhodes specified that good candidates should: have high academic achievements; use their talents fully; be unselfish and sympathetic to the weak; and have good moral judgment, among other things.

Email: sesposito@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slesposito



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