CHICAGO - Thomas Dowling, 21, grew up in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood and is now one of 32 American Rhodes scholars who will spend 2018 at Oxford University, studying and getting ready for a bright future.
"I think the role of government is to help people, that is what happened to me when I was growing up," Dowling said.
Dowling was just 3 years old when his father suffered a massive heart attack, leaving his young widowed mother to raise him, his brother and younger sister. Dowling found solace in books, and radiates a wisdom borne of understand others' studies. He even read every book in the St. John Fisher Catholic School library.
"That is true! Reading is the path to knowledge and success. Every single day after school I would come here and get my hands on every book that I could," he said.
In high school there came a point where survivor benefits for the family were about to be cut off. That turned out to be a turning point in Dowling's life.
"I called every elected official I could think of and two weeks later got a call back," Dowling remembered. "Turns out it was an administrative error, and for a young person who was told by their mother that education is the way out, that was a really powerful moment to have that in front of you, taken away, and brought back. So that was when I decided public service was my calling."
That early sense of purpose will inform his studies for two master's degrees at Oxford, one in comparative social policy and the other in public policy. The Rhodes was something people he admired had earned, including President Bill Clinton and Senators Corey Booker and William Fulbright, all of whom are also voracious readers.
Dowling's principal at St. John Fisher Catholic School knew he had that hunger.
"We try to do a lot with a little, and to know that we played some small part in his ultimate success makes me want to work harder to make sure Catholic education survives," Sister Jean McGrath said.
"And I think that fits in with public service too. We want to put ourselves in our neighbor's shoes, to understand what people are going through," Dowling said.
Dowling has every intention of running for office, stating a preference for the statehouse and possibly municipal politics to represent the people of Beverly.