Each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Rhodes Trust announces the names of the newest Rhodes Scholarship winners from the United States. The 32 scholars in the 2019 class, selected from more than 800 students endorsed by 281 different colleges, will begin their studies at the University of Oxford next October, joining recipients from more than 60 other countries. The award, considered to be the most prestigious for American college graduates, was created in 1902, with the first class of scholars beginning their Oxford studies in 1904.
The scholarships average about $70,000 per year and cover all expenses for two or three (in some cases four) years of graduate study. Recipients are free to study in the full range of disciplines offered at Oxford, including the life sciences, arts and humanities, social sciences, mathematics and the physical sciences.
Including this year’s recipients, 3,484 Americans have been awarded Rhodes Scholarships. The group includes 21 women, the greatest number ever selected and almost two-thirds of the total class. This representation is particularly noteworthy given that women were not even eligible to apply for the Rhodes until 1976.
Almost half of the recipients are immigrants or first-generation Americans, including Jin Park, a senior at Harvard, who was given Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status following his parents’ immigration to the U.S from South Korea. Park is the first DACA recipient in Rhodes history.
The international scope of the group is stunning. In addition to Mr. Park, the recipients include Yale’s Rayan Alsemeiry, whose family fled violence in the Middle East to come to Arizona where for years they alternated between periods of homelessness and makeshift housing. Boise State grad Elena Gallina, the child of humanitarian workers, grew up in Kosovo in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars. Aleleh Azhir (Johns Hopkins) emigrated from Iran at 14; Kristina Correa moved to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents; and Eren Orbey (Yale) came from Turkey where he saw his father murdered when he was only three years old.
The scholars are a prodigious group. They have published books and poetry and have authored dozens of articles in scientific, medical and social science journals. They have served as advisors to the White House, cabinet secretaries, governors and mayors. Counted among their internships are The World Bank, the Obama Foundation and the ACLU. They are regular contributors to the New Yorker and The New York Times, award-winning musicians, inventors and political campaign managers. One is the Battalion Commander at the Air Force Academy; another founded a nonprofit that helps undocumented students apply to college.
At Oxford, the scholars will pursue a wide range of interests: from migration studies to molecular biology; classics to computer science; and immunology to international relations. And they will enliven that venerable institution with the variety of talents and pastimes you’d expect from a group of energetic college students. They play soccer, row crew and run marathons, but they also include an award-winning pianist, a celebrated bluegrass music fiddler, a power lifter, soap maker, sky diver and a black belt in Hapkido.