Nick Harris

Brennan Catholic High School Graduate
Named Rhodes Scholar

Story by Matthew St. Amand

When asked if he ever dreamed of being named a Rhodes Scholar, Windsor native Nick Harris replied: “There was a time when I wasn’t sure I would finish high school.”

On November 22, while driving from Prince Edward Island to Halifax—where Nick attends university—the F.J. Brennan Catholic High School graduate received the call that he was one of 11 Canadians to receive a Rhodes Scholarship for 2022. 

Nick responded to the selection committee rep: “You just made everything possible!” 

Established in 1903 by Cecil John Rhodes, the Rhodes Scholarship is not only the oldest graduate scholarship in the world, but also widely considered the most prestigious.  Former recipients include world leaders and Nobel Prize winners. 

Growing up on Adanac Avenue in west Windsor, Nick attended St. John’s elementary school up to seventh grade. After that, he attended St. James and following graduation, attended Assumption high school. 

“I remember in grade eight, my teacher, Mr. Adams, would pose tough questions,” Nick recalls. “He reminded us, even as children, that we all had something useful and important to say. He believed we should be able to form an opinion and defend it.” 

Nick continues: “We talked about a variety of subjects, such as the Government policy, fundamental rights and freedoms and more—huge topics. My teachers gave young people the benefit of the doubt that we had something of merit to say.” 

As Nick settled into the routine of ninth grade, adversity struck from an unexpected quarter. An error in dosage on his acne mediation led to sudden and serious health issues.

“We didn’t know what was going on,” Nick remembers. “For several months, my symptoms included hypersensitivity to light, migraines, sharp pains in the spine, leading right up to seizures.”

One particularly bad onset of symptoms landed Nick in the hospital where the source of his trouble was finally identified. The road to recovery was long and arduous.

“I spent half of grade nine and most of grade ten at home,” he says. “A teacher came to my house every day to read textbooks to me, as I sat in the dark. My eyes could not bear the light.” He pauses, remembering. “There were serious moments when I didn’t know if tomorrow was going to happen. I remember lying in bed, unable to get up, wondering: ‘Is this what life’s going to be?’ I decided that if things ever got better, I would dedicate my life to making this world more beautiful for others.”

One source of inspiration came from his teacher, Ms. Sauro, who had a sign in her room, which read: “If God will bring you to it, God will bring you through it. Just believe.” 

Nick says that he prayed every day for a sign. Then one day, when his mother finalized some paperwork at school, she returned home with a box from Ms. Sauro.  It contained a sign just like the one in her classroom from which Nick drew strength.

“I thought that was a pretty strong sign,” Nick says.

By the time he entered grade eleven Nick had regained his strength and most of his debilitating symptoms receded. He transferred to F.J. Brennan Catholic School to have a fresh start. There, he became involved in student government, was elected prime minister of Student Council and was named valedictorian of his graduating class.

“Brennan was a place where teachers taught us to question whether the sky was the limit,” he says. “These experiences taught me to recognize that everyone has their struggles, even if we don’t see them.” 

Nick graduated from Brennan as a Loran Scholar. Active since 1990, the Foundation chooses up to 36 students a year for an undergraduate scholarship valued at $100,000. Among the post-secondary institutions where Nick was accepted, his choice came down to the University of British Columbia and University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I decided which school to attend by flipping a coin,” he says. “The University of King’s College won the toss.”

There, Nick is completing a double major in Political Science and Law, Justice, and Society. For anyone wondering where someone could work with such a degree, there is one corner that has shown great interest in Nick and his abilities: Canadian Intelligence.

After attending a conference in Toronto, Nick remembers meeting a man on the train platform. One of his favourite pastimes is striking up conversations, so Nick greeted the man. Their train was delayed and they went for a coffee. During their conversation the man said he had once worked in Canadian Intelligence and suggested Nick might enjoy the work, too. Taking the man’s advice, Nick applied to work within a Canadian Intelligence Agency. Following an eight-month process, he was cleared Top Secret. 

When asked what kind of work he performed with this organization, all Nick could say is: “At one time, I was a fulltime student, president of Student Union and working for the Canadian Intelligence community—doing complex international and domestic policy analysis.” 

This year, accustomed to throwing his hat into the ring, Nick applied for the Rhodes Scholarship. He was chosen for an interview from a pool of candidates throughout the Maritimes. 

“The interview took place in Prince Edward Island,” Nick explains. “My mentor Lindsay Cameron-Wilson—who’s been like a second mom to me—drove me there with her sister, Lee Surrette.”

The Rhodes candidates were treated to a two-day event. The first day involved conversation and a dinner party. The second day was the interview.

“When I say they grill you during the interview,” Nick says, “I really mean they grill you. I was given a series of scenarios for complex international policy that really had me thinking on my feet.”

When it was over: “I thought I bombed the interview,” Nick says.  

He did not. Within an hour of the interviews ending, Nick was offered a Rhodes Scholarship. 

He is still processing the news and sums up the experience and all he has come through in the past few years by saying: “It’s about looking at yourself every day in the mirror and saying: ‘I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and do the hard work.’”  

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