“Why do political communities across the world come together for the common good, and how successful are they? Most importantly, what about each has led to success or failure?”
These are the questions for which Nicolas “Cole” Graber-Mitchell ’22 says he will try to find answers over the next two years, as he pursues an M.Phil. degree in comparative government at the University of Oxford. He is one of only 41 young Americans this year to receive a Marshall Scholarship for graduate study in the United Kingdom.
Graber-Mitchell is no stranger to community organizing. His introduction to it came during a summer 2018 internship in his hometown of Minneapolis, when he phone-banked and knocked on neighbors’ doors to encourage them to vote for progressive candidate Keith Ellison for Minnesota attorney general. He has since worked for the Youth Social Change Fellowship in Providence, R.I.; for the Minneapolis-based climate justice organization MN350; and for the Brown University Leadership Institute.
Graber-Mitchell’s voice is well-known on the Amherst campus, both literally—he has sung with the Glee Club and won the 2021 Gilbert Prize for excellence in public speaking—and politically, as a senator in the Association of Amherst Students and an opinion columnist for The Amherst Student. A double major in math and law, jurisprudence and social thought, he is the only college student currently serving on the Town of Amherst’s Cultural Council.
As part of his Marshall Scholarship application, he wrote about reaching out to faculty, staff, fellow students and other local activists to organize and strategize for the September 2019 Climate Strike on campus. “Eventually, after weeks of planning, around 150 students gathered on the quad—forgoing class, work and other obligations—to join others globally in demanding climate action from the world,” he wrote. “Thanks to the strike, we elicited stronger commitments [from the College administration] to climate action, began to receive frequent progress reports on core climate projects, and built coalitions that fought for divestment [from fossil fuels] and a new sustainability director.”
“The U.S. and the U.K. have a lot to gain from working together, especially when it comes to the climate crisis,” Graber-Mitchell wrote. “To build that unity, I will dive into political life while studying in the U.K., banding together with local climate activists to strengthen communities and make change.”
On a lighter note, he names two other things he’s excited to experience in Great Britain: its “well-developed and extensive train network” and its renowned Indian food. “I’ve only ever lived for long amounts of time in two places: Amherst and Minneapolis. What’s going to be different in the U.K.?” he wonders. “Will I come to use the word chap or lorry?”
“After the Marshall, I plan to come back to the United States and fight for the political and social action that I think we need in the face of existential crises like climate change,” Graber-Mitchell says. “Eventually, I plan to go to law school and run for public office at the local or state level, which are where I think I can make the biggest difference.”