Rhodes Scholar speaks at Rotary

Rhodes Scholar and Mississippi native Noah Barbieri speaks at the Starkville Rotary Club's meeting Monday. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)

Staff Writer

Noah Barbieri, one of just 32 recently-chosen Rhodes Scholars, spoke with the Starkville Rotary Club about his experiences during the club’s weekly meeting Monday.

Later this Month, Barbieri, a Tupelo native, will travel to Oxford, England to pursue a master’s and possibly a doctorate in economics at the prestigious University of Oxford. He is a recent alumnus of Millsaps College with majors in mathematics, economics and philosophy. Barbieri is also one of 60 Truman Scholars.

He said his love of learning began after he received a metal spacer in his chest to repair a sunken chest while he was in middle school. Unable to play sports, he vowed to read a book every week.

“I know one summer, I read basically the entire canon of William Faulkner,” Barbieri said. “One week I’d be sailing the high seas with Herman Melville. I’d be in Russia with Dostoyevsky the next week, but through this time, I was avidly pounding through these books. I had my library in my room. I would get home from school and I would go by the used bookstore, and I would pick up a book on my way.”

He said he went back into school as the third-to-last in his class, and worked his way up to being third in his class after being out of school for a month.

While at Millsaps, Barbieri began volunteering at a nearby elementary school in a low-income neighborhood. His experiences there made him passionate about improving conditions in Mississippi, a topic he discussed in his Rhodes interview.

When he went for the interview in Birmingham, he was in the company of students from renowned universities, such as West Point, Yale, MIT and Stanford.

“We started off talking about how much I loved the state, and then about how sad I am that we’ve fallen behind in so many categories, and then how much opportunity I believe the state has to rise to the top and rise out of this,” Barbieri said.

He also discussed Mississippi native Jesmyn Ward, author of bestseller “Sing Unburied Sing” and the book’s discussion of the same subject in the interview.

“I remember walking out feeling really good, because the chairman of the Rhodes Trust was in my interview,” Barbieri said. “He put his arm around me, and said ‘you did a really good job today, son.’”

He said the two finalists from the group were himself and an Auburn University student.

With his degrees, Barbieri plans to work in [public service in Mississippi, although he is unsure of exactly how he will do so. One of his focuses is stopping the “brain drain” of educated millennials leaving the state.

“I really want everyone in this room to hold me accountable to that, to my plan to return back too Mississippi and address some of these problems,” Barbieri said. “I’ve been going around Mississippi for the last month, every little town that I havenÕt been to before I leave for two years.”