Best Lunch Break Ever

Faramola Shonekan
Rhodes Scholar finalist and Mizzou track athlete Faramola Shonekan learns via Zoom that she is the 2020 Mark Twain Fellowship recipient.

Whether studying abroad in the Netherlands, leading the pack as captain of the Mizzou women’s track and cross-country teams or working part time at Skylark Bookshop in downtown Columbia, Faramola Shonekan lives the slogan she herself coined:

“Mizzou is everywhere, and everywhere is Mizzou.”

Shonekan was moved to tears during her lunch break Tuesday afternoon when UM System President and MU Interim Chancellor Mun Choi, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Latha Ramchand, Shonekan’s family and several others surprised her via Zoom with the news that she is the 2020 recipient of the Mark Twain Fellowship. The MU-sponsored award annually supports one Mizzou recent graduate to pursue graduate study outside North America in any discipline.

“I’m overwhelmed and over the moon,” said Shonekan, a dual history and communication major who will study global and imperial history and earn a master’s degree at the University of Oxford. “All of my successes, in athletics and academics, I can attribute to the people on this Zoom meeting.”

Faramola Shonekan running

Faramola Shonekan is captain of the women’s track and cross country teams, as well as the 2020 Mizzou Female Student-Athlete of the Year. Photo courtesy Mizzou Athletics

Shonekan, a Columbia native who was also a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, has worked hand in glove with the MU Fellowships Office to apply for multiple academic awards during her time at Mizzou. The office identifies high-ability and high-achieving students as early as possible in their college careers and assists them in developing their potential as candidates for nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships.

“As I went through the interview process with all the candidates, the competition was tough,” Choi said. “I wish we had five of these awards to give! But you stood out, Faramola. Your commitment to your studies, to athletics and to improving society is greatly appreciated.”

MU History Professor Jay Sexton set up the ruse by inviting Shonekan to chat about running, research and life. The virtual surprise party also included Ben Trachtenberg, law professor and Twain Fellowship selection committee chair; Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies; and Ellen Eardley, former assistant vice chancellor for civil rights and title IX.

“Boom, I got ya!” said Sexton, laughing. “But one serious point: I know you’ll go over there knowing that you’ve got a lot to learn from Oxford, but Oxford has a lot to learn from you. Don’t ever forget that.”

Other highlights of the meeting included an impromptu song of congratulations from Ramchand and a heartfelt message from Shonekan’s mother, former MU professor in the School of Music, Stephanie Shonekan.

“Faramola has always loved history, and she has absorbed like a sponge everything she has learned from her parents, grandparents, extended family and every one of you on this Zoom meeting,” said Stephanie of her daughter, who is also a McNair Scholar and the 2020 Mizzou Female Athlete of the Year. “We’re very proud of Faramola’s determination and her ability to lead her younger siblings who look up to her.”