UPDATED: November 21, 2016, at 10:06 a.m.
Three College seniors and one graduate of the Class of 2016 will receive the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious and competitive in the world, the American secretary of the Rhodes Trust announced Saturday.
Spencer D. Dunleavy '17, Nancy Ko '17, Maia R. Silber ’17 and Anthony Wilder L. Wohns ’16, will join the ranks of Harvard’s 355 previous Rhodes Scholars in the scholarship’s 114-year history. Harvard will send the most representatives of any university in the U.S. for the second year in a row.
The scholarship traditionally pays for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.
“It was really rewarding and I was really grateful,” said Dunleavy. “I wanted to just really reach out to everyone that got me there and thank them for all their support.”
Harvard’s four recipients are among 32 that were selected from the United States, and the University is among 25 higher institutions represented by the finalists.
For consideration by the Rhodes Trust, applicants must be endorsed by their college or university. According to the Trust, around 2,500 students sought endorsements from their institution this year, and only 882 of these requests were granted by a total of 311 colleges and universities nationwide.
The selection process requires that finalists travel to in-person final interviews in the region from which they apply. Finalists convene in that venue directly following their interviews and wait for hours while deliberators decide on the two who will be named from that region, Harvard's Rhodes recipients said.
Silber, who is a chair of The Crimson's Fifteen Minutes magazine, said she had her interview on Saturday in Boston at 8 a.m., and spent the rest of the day waiting with her fellow finalists until the announcement came around 3 p.m.
Silber concentrates in History and Literature, with a focus on 19th century reform movements, such as abolitionism, women’s rights and temperance. Silber said she hopes to study these movements from a “transatlantic perspective” at Oxford, where she will pursue a Masters of Philosophy in British and European History focusing from 1500 to the present.
Ko, another recipient, said she applied despite doubting herself as being the right fit for the scholarship. She said hearing of her win was “exhilarating.”
She will study at Oxford for a Master of Philosophy in Modern Middle Eastern Studies. Ko grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she was “surrounded by Jewish life and culture,” which motivated her to focus her academic pursuits around Judaism. Ko is currently concentrating in History and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and writing a thesis on Jews in Iran in the early 1900s.
“The Rhodes nomination is as much a reflection on the people around us, the people who raised us, as it is a reflection of the scholars themselves,” Ko said.
Dunleavy, a Chemistry concentrator, will study at Oxford for degrees in education and primary health care. Dunleavy, who is also applying to medical school, where he still plans to go following his time at Oxford, said he was not planning to apply for the scholarship until Roger B. Porter, his faculty dean in Dunster House, managed to convince him, with some effort, to apply.
For Dunleavy, receiving a Rhodes scholarship was never something he imagined happening to him.
“I grew up with parents who didn't go to a four-year college, knew nothing about this, had never heard of Oxford. Most of my family, even now, don’t know what Oxford is,” Dunleavy said.
Wohns, who is already currently studying in England at the University of Cambridge on Harvard’s Herchel Smith Fellowship, graduated earlier this year with a degree, summa cum laude, in Human Evolutionary Biology and a secondary in Computer Science.
Wohns said his middle name “Wilder,” which he goes by, led him to make it a goal to apply for the scholarship. He was named after Wilder G. Penfield, a pioneering neurosurgeon in the early 20th century who was a Rhodes scholar. Wohns grew up being inspired by Penfield’s life story, he said.
“Seeing that a Rhodes scholarship was such a big part of his life—that’s when I first heard about it, and it’s always been a goal of mine since then,” Wohns said.
—Staff writer Graham W. Bishai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: November 21, 2016
A previous headline of this article incorrectly identified recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship as winners of the 2016 prize. In fact, recipients were named 2017 Rhodes Scholars.