Student of the world
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:34 PM
"Ryan Richards is out to change the world.The world isn't as it should be, said Richards, who is just wrapping up his junior year at Oak Harbor High School. I'd like to take a productive part in changing that. Richards is about to take an important step toward that goal in August when he begins classes at United World College of the American West in Montezuma, N.M. The highly-selective college stresses an international education where students from around the world study ways to bring about such high-minded ideals as world peace, justice, cooperation and community service.Richards was one of about 450 students who applied to the college this year. Only 25 from the United States were accepted, with another 25 from abroad. Just to apply required four essays and numerous other papers, followed by what Richards describes as an intense one-hour interview. He said it's a prelude of what's likely to come.It's going to be a strenuous education. They want people to get more out of it than just the education they get in the classroom, Richards said.He has enrolled for the college's two-year International Baccalaureate program.United World College operates 11 campuses worldwide, including sites in London, India, Venezuela and Singapore. The American West campus is the only U.S. site. Queen Noor of Jordan is college president, and former South African President Nelson Mandela serves as the college's council president. The study of cultural understanding and world peace may seem ambitious, but Richards said it's the direction he wants to take his life. He plans to attend an Ivy League university after his two years at United World, then go into a career in either theology or politics. He won't rule out a run for the U.S. presidency some day, though he worries he may find politics too ethically compromising.Richards has already shown leadership potential, serving as ASB vice president at Oak Harbor High School this year and being elected ASB president for next year - an honor he had to turn down after hearing he'd been accepted at United World. Richards maintains a 3.99 grade point average, is a National Honor Society member and was captain of the Wildcat boys swim team.Ironically, Richards has to become a high school dropout in order to attend the college. He is currently working with his school counselor to find a way to meet high school graduation requirements without attending senior classes next year.Richards' two-year course of study is being fully paid by a scholarship from a man he knows only as Shelby Davis.I don't know who he is or what he does, Richards said. But I wouldn't be able to attend if it wasn't for him. Shelby Cullom Davis was a former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and chairman of the Princeton University history department advisory committee. His foundation has established several scholarships for world and cultural studies. The American West campus is about the same size as Oak Harbor High School but only has 200 students. That was a big attraction for Richards.The idea of an eight to one student to teacher ratio is unheard of, he said.Richards was also impressed with the college teaching staff. The heat of New Mexico in August and the environment of the American Southwest will take some getting used to, though.Except for the fact that there aren't many trees and no ocean, it a pretty nice place, he said."