They waited for hours. The application process was complete, the interviews were behind them and the seven Yale students who would soon be named Rhodes scholars were full of anticipation.
When the Rhodes Trust affiliates came into the waiting rooms on the evening of Nov. 17 and announced this year’s winners — who will be provided full funding for graduate study at the University of Oxford under the scholarship — the students were shocked.
“It overwhelms, to get the news after such a long process,” Micah Johnson ’13 said. “To have it all come down to that moment is kind of hard to believe.”
Johnson and the other scholars — Jennifer Bright ’13, David Carel ’13, Rhiana Gunn-Wright ’11, Catherine Laporte-Oshiro ’13, Benjamine Liu ’12 and Dakota McCoy ’13 — comprise the largest Rhodes delegation in Yale history, beating the record six scholars the University produced in 1968. When they found out that they will move to the United Kingdom in the fall, the seven students all had a similar reaction: disbelief.
Carel said he thought “there was no way” his name was going to be called.
“When they did, I could barely breathe — I still didn’t quite believe it,” he said.
The scholarship is awarded annually to 32 Americans, along with students from other countries, who exhibit outstanding scholarly achievement and “moral force of character.” Though the seven Yalies each received the same award, their interests are varied, ranging from neuroscience to urban health.
McCoy, who plans to study behavioral ecology and environmental policy at Oxford, said it was “like time stopped” when she was awarded the scholarship. Her interests stem from a Yale class she took on collections at the Peabody Museum, and she said she looks forward to studying in the United Kingdom because of its international leadership in conservation policy.
“I already knew I wanted to go there, and obviously [the scholarship] is a great opportunity to do that,” she said.
Carel also said he is excited to study in the United Kingdom given the nation’s leadership in activism and development. He has led several HIV/AIDS activism groups and studied the influence of public policy on developing cities.
Johnson and Liu — who share interests in neuroscience and public health — had been interested in their fields even before college. For Johnson, extensive lab research and a summer spent in Ghana helped him develop his interest in medicine and health policy, and for Liu, the freshman science program Perspectives on Science and Engineering confirmed his academic interest in brain disorders.
Laporte-Oshiro also cited Yale experiences as defining points of her academic career. It was during her study in China on a Richard U. Light Fellowship, she said, that she “really [fell] in love with China,” and she currently hopes to pursue a career in public service as well as academic work on China-related diplomacy.
Unlike five of the six other students, Gunn-Wright decided not to apply for the scholarship directly out of Yale. But she said she was inspired to apply this year after hearing about Newark Mayor Cory Booker LAW ’97, a Rhodes scholar in 1994, who rescued a woman from a burning building. Booker’s career-long history of serving the public good made Gunn-Wright aspire to do the same and pursue the scholarship as the same first step that Booker took a decade ago.
“Seeing the way that he served people, he seemed like somebody I could relate to,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
Bright, who is interested in public policy and urban health, said she is grateful to her personal community of friends and mentors for helping her win the scholarship, and that “without them, [she] certainly could not have been successful.”
Looking ahead to the next several years, the students said they are eager to experience Oxford’s unique culture and join the network of Rhodes scholars.
“I’m incredibly excited to be part of the Rhodes community, which is a group of unbelievably talented and motivated people with all different backgrounds and interests,” Johnson said.
The students said they look forward to exploring nonacademic pursuits as well at Oxford, such as track and field, music, hiking and ale-tasting. In particular, Bright said she looks forward to participating in intramural sports, and Johnson said he is excited for Oxford’s residential college system — which, he said, is like “the Yale system on steroids.”
The American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2013, chosen out of a pool of 838 nominated students, will begin its studies abroad next fall.
This article was updated to reflect the version published in print Nov. 26.