US Rhodes Scholars chosen virtually for the 1st time

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Mila Dorji

FILE - In this Nov. 2019 photo provided by Mila Dorji, Rhodes Scholar Brian Reyes poses for a photo on Yales campus in New Haven, Conn. Reyes, a history major at Yale University from the Bronx, is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He is a student counselor who has been living on campus this school year and taking his classes online. He is planning on a two-year degree program in comparative social policy and a career in government or the nonprofit sector. (Mila Dorji via AP)

The U.S. Rhodes Scholars for 2021 were elected virtually this year for the first time as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, though that didn't extinguish enthusiasm among the 32 students who won scholarships to Oxford University.

The Rhodes Trust announced the winners early Sunday, which include 22 students of color. Ten are Black, which ties the record for the most Black students elected in a single year.

Shera Avi-Yonah, a 22-year-old Harvard University student, said she found out about her win Saturday night while she was sitting in her parents' basement in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

“A wave of gratitude washed over me,” Avi-Yonah said, adding that she ran upstairs to tell her parents. “I’m going to have a very happy Thanksgiving.”

The winners were chosen from a pool of more than 2,300 applicants — of which 953 were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities to study at Oxford University in England.

Avi-Yonah is planning to study history at Oxford, comparing the libel laws of the U.S. and United Kingdom. She is a reporter at the Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper, and has been the subject of several lawsuits for various stories -- prompting her interest in the limits of press freedom.

Sixteen committees from the Rhodes Trust invited the strongest applicants to interview virtually. The committees then made their selection of two students from each district.

Asma Rahimyar, a 20-year-old senior at Southern Connecticut State University, is the first-ever Rhodes winner from that institution. The University of California, Santa Cruz was also represented on the list of Rhodes Scholars for the first time.