When I first went to university at 17 years old, all I wanted was to get a Rhodes Scholarship and pursue graduate study on refugee issues and humanitarian innovation at Oxford. It was an obsession, my sole focus, and the only way I thought I could ever be taken seriously in this world.
Life threw me a few curveballs, and when my Nanna died and my Mum was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma I had to leave university and start working full time to support our household. I managed to graduate with my Bachelor of Arts degree on time by taking online and evening classes and kept striving towards being the “perfect” Rhodes applicant.
I did triathlons to fundraise for melanomaWA, I co-founded Perth SOUP, I managed communications for Urban Refugees, I qualified to provide pro bono migration support to refugees and began to take on clients, I did intensive French and Arabic lessons, and I spent 3 hours a week volunteering with two refugee children who I developed a very close mentoring relationship with — all while working and caring for my Mum who was recovering from spinal surgery.
In 2015 when I finally applied for the Rhodes Scholarship, I wasn’t invited to have an interview. But being fixated on that single-minded goal for so long had consequences: I found magic in the journey, deeply loved every single thing I was doing, and managed to rapidly gain the skills and confidence to pursue a career of humanitarian service and advocacy, without an elite institution’s validation.
I may not have become a Rhodes Scholar, but instead I completed an internship at United Nations OCHA in NYC, became a finalist for Young West Australian of the year, graduated with a Masters focusing on Humanitarian Action from The Australian National University and landed my dream job in London working to help advocate for tech-enabled development and humanitarian innovation (my current role, but now Atlanta-based!)
Today, career-wise I’m lightyears ahead of where I thought I’d be at 25-years-old, and it’s all because I failed in my biggest goal… but thoroughly enjoyed every step of the journey.
My name is Keeya-Lee Ayre, but I go by just Keeya if the context is casual. I'm American-born, Australian-raised, and living in Atlanta after a 2 year stint in London. I work in the humanitarian innovation / tech / social impact space. You can follow me on twitter here!