Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

2009 Plant High valedictorian named a Rhodes scholar

Jim O’Connell graduated this year from Wake Forest University.

Jim O’Connell graduated this year from Wake Forest University.

TAMPA — As a newly selected Rhodes scholar, former Plant High School valedictorian Jim O'Connell will study tuition-free at England's University of Oxford, where he hopes the experience will further a career in service.

What type of service, he's still not sure.

"The goal is to just make the biggest impact," said O'Connell, 23.

Lately he's thought of joining the Navy SEALs, where he could serve the country and gain valuable leadership training. Or maybe, he said, he would like to run for political office.

"I just want to pay it forward for the rest of my life," he said.

O'Connell's selection as one of 32 American students receiving the honor was made Saturday evening.

Winners were chosen by the Rhodes Trust on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.

Beginning next fall, the American scholars — to be joined by several dozen international winners — will study at the esteemed Oxford University, which is thought to be the oldest in the English-speaking world.

The scholarship, with an average value of $50,000 a year, pays graduate or post-graduate tuition and fees to the university for two to three years of study and grants a monthly stipend and airfare.

In the past eight years, at least three such scholars have come from the Tampa Bay area.

O'Connell graduated with honors this year from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where he majored in politics and international affairs and has a yearlong fellowship in the president's office.

At South Tampa's Plant High, he was class valedictorian in 2009, played varsity football and was senior class president.

When the Rhodes Trust notified him of the honor about 5 p. m. Saturday, O'Connell said the news floored him. The first thing he did was call his mom and tell her to sit down.

Kathy O'Connell. who raised him as a single mother, said she always thought he would be a judge because as a child he wandered their Tampa home banging a gavel.

She runs a child day care business from her home and did not seem too astonished at the news.

"Nothing has ever surprised me about him," she said.

At home Sunday, she glowed with pride, carrying out clippings and rattling off awards her son has received over the years: His face once stared over Kennedy Boulevard from a billboard for his work with Best Buddies Florida. He started a group to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in college; was on the honor and ethics council; and was the student representative on Wake Forest's board of trustees.

Also, she mentioned, he writes screenplays.

For all his accomplishments, O'Connell remains humble. He said credit for the scholarship deserves to be spread.

"It takes a ton of work and it's a team effort," he said. "There are so many people who helped me along the way."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

2009 Plant High valedictorian named a Rhodes scholar 11/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, November 24, 2013 9:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Philippines forces make gains in city under siege by ISIS-linked militants

    MARAWI, Philippines — Philippine forces say they now control most of a southern city where militants linked to the Islamic State group launched a bloody siege nearly a week ago.

  2. Rays exhausted but happy after 15-inning win over Twins (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Rays eventually won Sunday's 6½-hour, 15-inning marathon against the Twins 8-6, they did plenty to lose it. And we need to get that out of the way first.

    The Rays’ Evan Longoria enjoys a laugh after scoring, barely, to tie it in the ninth on Steven Souza Jr.’s two-out single.
  3. Tom Jones' Two Cents: ABC's Indy 500 coverage is stellar again

    TV and Radio

    Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Takuma Sato left, celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves is a little late passing him. ABC’s coverage of the race is stellar throughout, with plenty of extras but no fake drama.
  4. Takuma Sato surprise winner of wreck-filled Indy 500

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Takuma Sato, a journeyman driver, became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when he held off three-time champion Helio Castroneves in a 230-mph wheel-rubbing duel to the finish.

    Scott Dixon’s car goes over the top of Jay Howard, soaring so high that Helio Castroneves drove under it while it was airborne. Stunningly, there were no serious injuries.
  5. South Korea military: North Korea fires unidentified projectile


    SEOUL — North Korea launched a ballistic missile early today that flew 280 miles and landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone, the South Korean military and the Japanese government said.

    S. Korean President Moon Jae-in is assessing the launch.