URI gets its first Rhodes Scholar

KINGSTON, R.I. — December 27, 2001 — All the world’s a stage for Rachel Walshe who grew up in Warwick and graduated from Pilgrim High School. Instantly thrust into the limelight this December when she was named the University of Rhode Island’s first Rhodes Scholar, Walshe doesn’t have to squint to see her admiring and expanding audience.

Winning the most selective and competitive scholarship in the nation, if not the world, places Walshe in the company of past Rhodes winners including former President Bill Clinton and Senator Bill Bradley.

One of only 32 Americans chosen this year for the prestigious academic award, Walshe will focus on dramatic literature and theatre history at Oxford University in England for two years, all of her expenses including travel and a small stipend paid by the scholarship.

Walshe got her passion for the theater when she was 12 while riding in a car with her mother, listening to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack on the radio. “The rock musical on the last seven days of Christ’s life turned my life upside down and revolutionized my way of thinking,” says the 23-year-old who has worked 30 hours a week since she was 17 to fund her education. “I think that’s what art should do… show people a different way to see the world.”

While at URI, Walshe majored in the philosophy of religions, a self-designed course of study. “My decision to explore religions and theology was not an episode in soul-searching, I dont come from a particularly religious family, nor do I now have strong ties to any particular tradition. Rather, I chose to study theology in my first years of college in order to explore those parts of human life that do not readily lend themselves to language, logic or practicality. I felt that understanding the worlds faith traditions would help provide passage to that which is ineffable,” she says. “I wanted to explore how people articulate their inner lives.”

Walshe delved into the philosophical study of metaphysics and existentialism and began to shift her philosophical emphasis from theology to aesthetics. “This was a decisive turn in my intellectual life and amounted to a paradigm shift for me,” says the 2000 URI alumna. “Where studying faith traditions helped me examine the human inner life, I found that a
rt, in particular the performing arts, was the process by which we articulate our inner lives.”
Living in a state with a rich theater tradition has provided Walshe with practical, hands-on experience. Hired as the literary associate at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence for the 2000-2001 season, Walshe read all dramatic scripts submitted for production consideration at the theater, wrote as a dramaturg, and worked as an assistant director and director of theater projects around Providence.

She is currently the full-time manager of Perishable Theater in Providence where her duties run the gamut from fundraising, public relations, mass mailing, and grant writing, to painting if needed. Walshe will remain at Perishable until next fall when she leaves for Brasenose College, Oxford.

After Oxford, she wants to direct and work as a dramaturg. “They’re the chair scoochers who come to the table with the knowledge and tools to help mold a play,” she says. “It’s not an easy road,” she adds. “You don’t see many jobs for dramaturgs in the classifieds, but then you don’t see many jobs for philosophers either.”

She will work toward making the theater more accessible. If she had her way, theaters would never have a box office. Theaters, she says, should be rooted in their own communities and serve as sounding boards for communal concerns.

Walshe hasn’t spent all of her time in darkened theaters.

She is an accomplished equestrian, winning prizes in multiple hunt seat and trail classes. And she’s done all that on a limited budget, “leasing” horses when money allowed.

And she still mixes frozen margaritas, mostly on weekends now, at Chili’s restaurant in Warwick, which helped put her through school.

The new Rhodes Scholar calls her accomplishment a team effort, acknowledging her supporting cast at URI’s Honors Scholarship Office. She’s especially grateful to Philosophy Professor Cheryl Foster, scholarship coordinator, whom she calls her cheerleader, her coach, and her friend and to Judith Swift, “a brilliant director,” a professor of communications and theater at URI.

“A newspaper columnist recently wrote ‘that you know the world has been turned upside down when URI gets a Rhodes Scholar,’” Walshe noted at a recent Rhodes Rally held in her honor. “I want him to know that I wasn’t named a Rhodes Scholar in spite of being a URI student. I was named a Rhodes Scholar because I attended the University of Rhode Island.”

For Information: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116