Arts student latest Rhodes Scholar
by Jeff Green
Remzi Cej can’t stop smiling. There’s a proud wide beam stretched across his face as he talks about what he calls the “biggest surprise” of his life. You can’t blame him, really, for showing so much enthusiasm.
It’s not everyday you find out you’ve received one of the most notable academic awards for post-secondary students.
The 24-year-old Arts student, who’s completing a joint honours degree in French and German Studies, has just been named this province’s next Rhodes Scholar.
He’s elated as he chats about the honour.
“To be a Rhodes Scholar, for me, is to have a chance to study something I’ve dreamt of doing since my teenage years,” he noted in between takes during a quick photo shoot in the Science Building. He’s stopped by a stream of students, faculty and staff offering him congratulations and is a little overwhelmed by all the attention but admitted he’s eager to start the next chapter in his academic career next fall.
As this province’s 100th nominee for the Rhodes Scholar, Mr. Cej plans to complete a bachelor of arts degree at the prestigious Oxford University, focusing on international humanitarian law.
“It’s such an honour and privilege to be selected and to be able to represent my community and province in one of the most prestigious universities in the world,” he said.
The energetic student was born in one of the world’s most war-torn countries. He’s originally from Kosovo and immigrated to Newfoundland and Labrador with his family in 2000 to escape the violence and destruction that plagued his country. He completed high school in St. John’s before enrolling at Memorial.
This latest honour builds on several other local and national awards Mr. Cej has received. The well-known community volunteer and activist, who has achieved a 3.8 grade point average while studying at Memorial, is actively involved with a wide-range of groups including the Association for New Canadians, Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Community Youth Network.
He is the youngest recipient of the YM/YWCA Peace Medal, presented for his commitment to educating the general public about human rights. His list of accomplishments also includes a Terry Fox Humanitarian Award. As well, he speaks seven languages: Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, Spanish, German, French and English.
Mr. Cej said Oxford will offer him a chance to study humanitarian law with some of best teachers and students in the world.
“[It] was one of the leading institutions to host and play an important role at an international meeting in 1880 that saw the creation of the first draft of what came to be known as the Geneva Conventions 60 years later, a set of international laws guiding warring states or factions in distinguishing between civilians and soldiers,” he noted. “To be able to study in a place so central to my goals of working within the international humanitarian law is not only a privilege, but an incredible opportunity to explore history further in order to concentrate on what we, as the humanity, can do in the future generations to come.”
Mr. Cej grew up in the shadow of the Kosovo war and saw its effects first-hand. He said those experiences are the impetus for his desire to study humanitarian law.
“My parents and I came here as refugees late in 2000, hoping for an alternative to the violence we had experienced during the war in 1998 and 1999,” he said. “And peace we found along with 21-feet of snow, in our first winter in St. John’s.”
Mr. Cej is set to graduate from Memorial during the spring 2008 convocation ceremonies in St. John’s.
He’ll take up his studies at Oxford next fall.
“My goal is to work in international policy work, in drafting laws and guiding principles for states to respect civilians in vulnerable situations,” he said. “My law degree will have a special emphasis on vulnerable populations, that is, seniors, women and children in conflict situations. I hope to be able to take my Oxford training and education to a higher level, be it through the United Nations or the International Committee of the Red Cross, the world leader in international humanitarian law.
“I hope that, upon finishing my studies, I can come back and in some way, bring what I learned to Memorial’s students. Ideally, I would lobby for a Faculty of Law at Memorial University. It’s not completely impossible. Nothing is.”