A recent St. John's University graduate will head to Oxford next year as a Rhodes scholar to continue studying environmental change in hopes of one day returning to his native Bahamas to tackle the climate crisis there.
Jervon Sands, 21, was chosen from among 10 finalists in the Commonwealth Caribbean for the prestigious scholarship in mid-November.
He's only the second Johnnie to earn a Rhodes scholarship. The first was 1967 graduate Steven Michaud, a Chisholm native who was a boxing champion and later graduated from Harvard Law School.
Sands graduated summa cum laude this year with a degree in applied physics. He's currently serving with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps in Puerto Rico. Next year, he'll join the group of about 100 Rhodes scholars in England, where he plans to obtain master's degrees in environmental change and management, and sustainability, enterprise and the environment.
"It feels great to be recognized but I'm most grateful [because of] how much the courses resonate with what I want to do next," he said Tuesday. "Returning home, I want to work with different government organizations to integrate our environmental response."
Sands grew up in Nassau and attended secondary school at St. Augustine's College, which was founded by Benedictine monks from St. John's Abbey in the 1940s. He first planned to study civil engineering but, after being involved with environmental justice organizations at St. John's, decided to broaden his studies to include the economics and politics of the climate crisis.
"I think there is a greater need for addressing social justice and inequality through an environmental justice lens," he said. "I'm a small-islander. I grew up just being able to walk over the hill to the beach, play with my cousins in the dock and catching crab.
"A lot of our livelihoods are tied to the land and the sea," he continued. "And I don't want future generations of Bahamians to not be able to rely on those things, to not have those things on their own."
While at St. John's, Sands traveled to the United Nations climate conference last year in Egypt and worked for a climate change charity while studying in London. He also conducted research on climate resilience in developing states.
"I just learned a lot from what is needed on the front lines," he said. "I understood from that experience that a top-down approach wouldn't work for small nations."
Smaller countries often need loss and damage financing to rebuild from extreme weather events such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017 or Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019 — two places he's witnessed recovery efforts firsthand. But that money often gets tied up in governmental gridlock, putting climate response on hold, he said.
"The Bahamas is one of the lowest-lying island nations in the Caribbean and really in the world," he said. "And we don't know when the next major hurricane will come through. If we aren't rebuilding before getting hit again, we can't really make any efforts to adapt."
He's also concerned about forced climate migration as the climate crisis intensifies: "Eventually, there's going to be nowhere left for us to go except for outside of our country and there won't be anything left for us to call our own."