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. 5 things to know before Tampa Bay Comic Con this weekend


    Tampa Bay Comic Con returns to the Tampa Convention Center this weekend, expected to attract more than 55,000 like-minded nerds mingling with cosplayers, celebrities, artists and sellers of comic books and collectibles.

    Surrounded by the bridesmaids dressed as Disney princesses and groomsmen dressed as Marvel superheroes, Gwen Walter of Venice, Fla., kisses her husband, Shawn Walter, also of Venice, after their wedding ceremony on day two of the 2016 Tampa Bay Comic Con in the Tampa Convention Center on August 6, 2016. The pair got engaged at Megacon 2015 and were married wearing "Nightmare Before Christmas"-themed costumes. Two different couples were married in Room 24 on the second day of the Tampa Bay Comic Con 2016. ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times
  2. Baker releases endorsement of 40 Midtown pastors


    Rick Baker announced Thursday that he has the support of 40 Midtown pastors and religious leaders, evidence he says of his "overwhelming support" in a crucial part of the city.

  3. A Taste of Tampa Bay: Noble Crust in St. Petersburg

    Food & Dining

    Noble Crust opened on north 4th Street in St. Petersburg, an area light on ambitious restaurants, in 2015. Chef Rob Reinsmith and his team are serving up a blend of southern cuisine and Italian-style cooking, including the restaurant's signature fried chicken. The Noble Crust brand recently expanded beyond its St. …

    Pizza at Noble Crust. [Photo by MONICA HERNDON | TIMES]
  4. HomeTeam 100: Players 11-20


    Armwood wide receiver Warren Thompson is seen during the spring football jamboree at Plant City High School in Plant City, Fla., on Thursday, May 19, 2016.
  5. Rays get relief help, acquire LHP Dan Jennings from White Sox


    The Rays got the relief help they were looking for, acquiring LHP Dan Jennings from the White Sox for prospect 1B Casey Gillaspie.

    Jennings, 30, is 3-1, 3.45 in 48 games this season for the White Sox, and is tough on lefty hitters, holding them a .169 average and .497 OPS. He was better last season, posting a …

    Dan Jennings is 3-1, 3.45 in 48 games this season for the White Sox.