For West Point Cadets Evan Walker and Tyrese Bender, the road to becoming Rhodes Scholars was paved with hard work and commitment to school, sports, and integrity — but that didn't stop them from questioning whether they had actually won the prestigious award.
"I was in shock," Walker told CBS News.
Bender and Walker are among 32 U.S. students chosen to study at Oxford University in England. The 2021 class of Rhodes is among the most diverse ever. Twenty-one of the recipients across the country are people of color and 17 are women.
Bender, the second-highest-ranking cadet in the West Point chain of command, is the decorated captain of the track and field team. He also established a character training protocol for 1,300 cadets around issues including race, sexual harassment and assault, mental health, political activism and COVID-19.
Walker, described by the Army as "small in stature, reserved and soft-spoken but a fighter," is a champion and the captain of West Point's gender-integrated boxing team. She served as Cadet Basic Training commander this past summer, leading nearly 1,500 new cadets.
"To represent our families and our sports teams and the academy and the Army internationally, that's an honor and a privilege," Walker said.
They are the 95th and 96th West Point Academy cadets to be awarded the scholarship in this year's diverse cohort, and it's the first time since 2014 that two members of the Corps of Cadets received the honor.
Both cadets credit their wins to their mothers and said they are the reasons why their work ethic brought them to where they are today.
"She told me, You don't got to be the best, but you have to do the best and do your best every time," Walker said.
Bender's mother, Maria, who served in the Army for eight years, told him that like anything in life, you just don't give up.
"I did it for her and for the thousands of other people that I hope to impact in the future," Bender said.
Both cadets told CBS News they believe service means living your life for others, and while at Oxford they will learn lessons to help them do that in the U.S. Army.
Bender plans to earn a master of philosophy in sociology and evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation. Walker intends to earn a master of comparative social policy, focusing on workplace inequality and mobility for racial and gender minorities.
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