Stockdale High School grad and U.S. Military Academy at West Point senior Evan Szablowski knew all his life that he wanted to be a Rhodes scholar some day.
But when Szablowski learned a little more than two weeks ago that he would be among 32 Americans selected for a scholarship to study at Oxford University in the United Kingdom next fall, he didn't jump up and down and celebrate.
"Right before, I was thinking, 'This is one of those moments where what they say next could change my life forever,'" he recalled.
Then Szablowski braced himself.
He'd met the competition and had been so impressed by their academic and leadership credentials that he'd called home to to confide to his parents that the whole thing was a long shot.
The winners were selected the same day Szablowski and 10 other finalists from a district including California and Arizona were interviewed in Los Angeles. The news was announced after the interviews "in front of everybody," he said.
Upon hearing his name, Szablowski, 21, said a "sense of peace" washed over him.
"I thought, 'I know what I'm supposed to be doing.' I felt very calm, almost. It was unexpected," he said.
Szablowski's first call was to his best friend, Allen Moss, a West Point classmate he'd sorely neglected during a grueling application process that included writing a personal essay and submitting the formal endorsement of his university, at least five letters of recommendation, a list of extra-curricular activities and a transcript.
Then he called his parents, John and Lisa Szablowski.
"We are very proud of him," said John Szablowski, executive pastor of The Bridge Bible Church. "We're kind of overwhelmed by what he has achieved."
It's not that big of a stretch for Szablowski to study abroad. The math major has already been to the Czeck Republic, Ethiopia, Morocco and South Korea to study business and economics there on short fellowships.
Bakersfield's very own Rhodes scholar traveled widely growing up, even spending part of his childhood in Indonesia, where his father had worked in the oil industry before becoming a minister.
"It's something I value tremendously, the perspective you gain from experiencing other cultures and other points of view," Szablowski said.
That's why the scholarship means so much to him.
The 32 American Rhodes scholars will join scholars from 14 other countries who will commence their studies in October 2013. Szablowski said being part of a cohort of the world's best and brightest is an education in and of itself.
"It's going to be so much more than just what you learn in the classroom," he said.
The 2009 Stockdale High School graduate plans to use his scholarship to pursue a master's research degree in applied statistics, which he would use to study data analytics and machine learning in computer science.
He'd like to go into military intelligence some day.
The value of the scholarship varies depending on the type of degree sought and the field of study, but typically it's worth about $50,000 a year. The Rhodes Trust pays tuition, living expenses and transportation to and from England.
Szablowski's mother isn't saddened by the prospect of the youngest of her three children going off to a foreign country next fall.
"It's not fear of having him so far away," Lisa Szablowski said. "It's more excitement about the opportunity to go see him there.
"It's a cool place to visit."