Six members of Harvard’s Class of 2021 reacted with tears of gratitude, shouts through windows, and dozens of phone calls to socially distanced friends and families after receiving the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship this weekend.
After receiving the news from childhood bedrooms and campus dorm rooms in the Rhodes Trust’s first virtual selection process, the six students will join Rhodes Scholars from more than 60 other countries to begin their graduate studies at the University of Oxford in England in October 2021.
Harvard College boasted the most American Rhodes recipients of any university this year, according to the American secretary of the Rhodes Trust’s public announcement of the winners Sunday. 375 Harvard students have now been named American Rhodes Scholars since the award was established in 1902; this year, College students made up nearly 20 percent of the 32 American winners.
Swathi R. Srinivasan ’21, a joint concentrator in Social Studies and History of Science from Beachwood, Oh., said she is grateful to her friends and parents who encouraged her to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship, even when she herself was unsure.
“I was diagnosed with cancer this time last year, and so I was dealing with chemotherapy all throughout last semester,” Srinivasan said. “I would never have imagined that by this time this year I would be done with treatment, I would have started writing multiple theses, that I would be applying for — let alone winning — the Rhodes Scholarship.”
Wilfried K. Zibell ’21, a joint concentrator in Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Noorvik, Alaska, said he hopes to study imperialism and displacement at Oxford.
“At Harvard, I’m currently looking at Inuit and Yiddish literature, specifically at how displacement and empire affect literature and identity,” Zibell said. “At Oxford, I will be moving from a literary analysis to an economic analysis and understanding how economic development can be both oppressive and liberatory.”
Elijah C. DeVaughn Jr. ’21, who is concentrating in History and Literature and hails from Compton, Calif., said he hopes to use his time at Oxford to further explore his interest in criminal justice reform by studying the respective journeys of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X to the UK in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“I understand criminal justice to be the civil rights issue of this generation, and so it only makes sense to me that I follow in the footsteps of Douglass and X and journey to the UK, both to study how they built transnational coalitions in their time, but also how I can do that in my life,” DeVaughn said.
Nkaziewoh N. Nchinda-Pungong ’21 said he has been inspired both by the diversity of subjects Rhodes Scholars study, but even more so by his fellow scholars’ shared focus in “increasing access to resources for the underserved.”
“Before getting the Rhodes, back in March before I even knew I wanted to apply, I knew it was for people interested in public service, that you got to go to Oxford, and that it was prestigious, but I didn’t really know what it meant,” Nchinda-Pungong, a Biomedical Engineering concentrator from Oak Creek, Wis., said. “Everybody that I met was awesome — it felt almost like the first time I came to Harvard, where everybody was an expert in one thing or another that I had no idea about, yet also people were down-to-earth, which I really liked.”
Carissa J. Chen ’21, a History concentrator from Tustin, Calif., said she feels “really lucky that society has given me so much.”
“Even being able to study at Harvard is amazing, and having the chance to go to Oxford is incredibly exciting, and I really hope that I can do something to thank all of those in society who have helped me, supported me, believed in me.”
Shera S. Avi-Yonah '21, a History concentrator from Lincoln, Mass., serves as the Managing Editor of The Harvard Crimson.
The Canadian secretary of the Rhodes Trust has yet to announce the Canadian recipients of the scholarship; students from around the world will receive word of their selection in the coming weeks, bringing the total class to more than 100 recipients.
A complete list of the American recipients from Harvard is below:
*Shera S. Avi-Yonah ’21
Carissa J. Chen ’21
Elijah C. DeVaughn Jr. ’21
Nkaziewoh N. Nchinda-Pungong ’21
Swathi R. Srinivasan ’21
Wilfried K. Zibell ’21
*Denotes a current Crimson editor
—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.