Saturday, May 27, 2017

Memorial High Grad Picked for Selective Program

William “Ryan” Caesar is likely the first Spring Branch ISD graduate ever admitted to Oxford University as an undergraduate. A rich learning journey begins for him soon, but Ryan doesn’t allow accomplishment or accolade to go to his head.

In just a few weeks, this Memorial High co-valedictorian who scored a composite perfect score of 36 on the ACT as only a junior will be riding along on the back of a garbage truck, picking up neighborhood trash like a simple working man.

His father is chief executive officer at WCA Waste Corp., which includes trash and garbage operations, but Ryan takes total responsibility for his hot and sweaty pre-Oxford decision to earn a real paycheck.

“This is my idea,” he says. “I really want to know what it is like to go out each day and to really work for everything you’ve got.” It connects with deeply held ethics about working for a living in America, says the National Merit Finalist.

If that sounds a bit like a politician or a philosopher in the making, it also follows the choices Ryan has made along the way. At Memorial, he played on the varsity basketball team and led a winning Academic WorldQuest team, while performing at the top of his academic class.

He has taken more Advanced Placement classes than most people can name. 

Last summer, he interned in the office of Texas Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a District 6 Democrat. He helped build a Youth Advisory Council in Goose Creek ISD, and helped get a homeless man into a local shelter, a favorite interning memory.

He took away a message from staff last summer: “Do first, ask questions later.”

He visited Oxford University with his family last summer, too, and then returned alone last December for three days of personal interviews with Oxford scholars, or tutors, who choose a handful of incoming freshmen admitted into a program offering a degree in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE).

He is not a stranger to Great Britain. He lived there with his parents when just a toddler. The Oxford campus is quite old and beautiful, but the PPE program has stolen his heart and brain, if not his soul.

“PPE for me is a broad opportunity, and that appeals to me. I know what I like to do, but not what I really want to do in the future. It represents that wider scope of ideas, all of which I’m interested in,” he says.

The Oxford tutors obviously liked what they heard. The three days of interviews last December will result in Ryan joining seven PPE incoming freshmen, starting this October, at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, one of 30 separate colleges there.

The intense interviews were like nothing he had ever done. He prepped for the interviews by devouring philosophy books, winning comments from basketball buddies during practices.

One sample oral interview question: Does the spread of democracy in the world today lead to a more stable world society? 

“I studied my butt off and those were easily the most stressful days of my entire life,” he recalls. “They wanted to know how you think, they were not looking for answers.”

Among peers who reportedly interviewed for a PPE spot at Oxford was Malala Yousafzai, the  young Pakistani who advocates for female schooling and human rights. She is the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Prize.

Ryan is highly impressed by the leadership model of his parents, and especially his mother, Minda Caesar, who was highly visible this year in Spring Branch ISD and in educating the Texas Legislature on critical issues like school finance reform.

Both teachers and counselors who know him say that Ryan will thrive at Oxford, no matter who he competes with or what college or career direction he selects. He remains interested in U.S. politics, among other options.

“Ryan Caesar is driven, smart and fun to have in class – he always seems to be smiling,” says Ann Rogers, an AP Physics teacher who Ryan views as one of his best instructors. “He tries hard and is willing to make mistakes. Ryan speaks up and asks questions.”

“Ryan has shown us that he is astonishing in all regards, organized to perfection, and responsible beyond his years,” Memorial Counselor Graciely Hudec writes.  “Not only is his transcript a work of art, but his devotion to his academic success and his extracurricular activities and service to his community are beyond measure. Ryan Caesar is an amazing individual, representative of an ideal student.”

Oxford University thinks so, too.


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