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I gave myself a voice: Rhodes Scholar Vinay Nayak

December 03, 2013 18:12 IST

I gave myself a voice: Rhodes Scholar Vinay Nayak

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Arthur J Pais

Rhodes Scholar Vinay Nayak, a senior at Yale and an expert in using the Internet for citizen engagement, talks about his achievements.

Fighting hard to overcome his shyness, Vinay Nayak plunged into debates and other activities at his high school in Oak Brook, Illinois. He also made very good use of the digital media.

“I gave myself a voice,” said the newly announced Rhodes Scholar, one of the 32 Americans bound for Oxford University next year. “And that is when I began to think of using the digital media to give voice to people who have no voice, get them to work for their rights, get them to vote.”

A senior at Yale where he majors in political science, Vinay’s academic work has focused on how the Internet can be used to enhance citizen engagement in elections, government and policy-making.

He has used this expertise in political campaigns including the Obama 2012 re-election campaign, where he managed national digital programmes and social media accounts.

He also managed the social media presence for the Sandy Hook Elementary School parents whose children lost their lives.

Vinay has won many Yale prizes, and was chosen as national oratory champion.

He plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy at Oxford. Among other things, he hopes to learn “more on how we can use online tools to help those who are voiceless in the political process here in the US and in countries around the world. If harnessed well, the Internet can be a very transformative tool. Even in small towns across the world, people are able to connect and share information with the push of a button.”

During his time on the Obama campaign, he engaged with different groups online, including Young Americans, People with Disabilities, People of Faith, and environmentalists.

“Through that experience and others since then, including interning at the White House this past summer, I have come to believe that politics and government, at their best, can bring people together and ensure that every voice is heard,” he said. “I want to spend my life committed to this ideal.”

He graduated in 2010 as co-valedictorian from Hinsdale Central High School, and the Chicago Tribune gave him an all-state academic scholarship as selected by an independent panel.

At Yale, he has a 3.934 GPA. He is also the captain of the Yale mock trial team and won the Buck-Jackson Prize for best public speech by a sophomore.

His achievements, his work as a student leader for the Obama campaign and his internship at the White House have made headlines in newspapers including the Chicago Tribune that have published articles on how his father Raghuver Nayak, a wealthy surgery center owner, figured prominently in the investigation of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a jail sentence.

Vinay would not speak about how he focused on his own political work and studies at Yale despite such controversies. “I wish you would write only about my academic work,” he said.

“Studying at Hinsdale was a gift,” he said, “and going to Yale certainly was another gift. And now the Rhodes. But I want the Indian-American community to know that you do not get these gifts unless you really work hard and compete. And I would like to see more and more Indian Americans do so and increase their share of major scholarships.”