Christian Nattiel is a 1+1 MBA student, Rhodes Scholar and an Infantry Officer in the US army.
The first African American from the United States Military Academy at West Point to be selected for the Rhodes Scholarship, Christian Nattiel’s route to Oxford University is a story of determination, discipline and selflessness.
The step-son of a military serviceman, he grew up in Florida before moving to Atlanta, Georgia, where he attended an inner-city high school struggling with the difficulties of concentrated poverty. ‘I will always remember my first day there,’ he said, ‘The teacher asked us to introduce ourselves to the class, and to tell them our aspirations. There was one student who felt too defeated to see any opportunities for themselves beyond welfare, and that stuck with me.’ Troubled by these experiences, Christian made it his life’s purpose to help people from disadvantaged communities raise their aspirations and improve their ability to self-determine their futures.
As a young teenager, Christian knew he wanted to serve his country, but the infantry was not what he had in mind. ‘Growing up in the South, I always lived near military bases,’ he said. ‘I grew up seeing a lot of military personnel. And it impressed on me the culture of honour that comes with military service – that was something I looked up to and respected. At the same time, I lived near the MacDill Air Force base. I got to see fighter jets soaring overhead, and I knew then that is what I wanted to do.’
While Christian had the necessary aptitude for maths and science to follow this dream, nature had other ideas: by the time he was 15, he was over 6ft 5 inches – too tall to fly a US fighter jet.
‘I never imagined myself in the army – rolling around in the mud and so on,’ he said with a smile. ‘But while I was exploring my options, a military liaison officer told me about West Point. At first, I said “no way,” but it was my Mom who persuaded me to explore the opportunity further.’