Susan Rice, daughter of a member of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System and a Washington native, was among 32 American students named this week as Rhodes scholars.
Rice, 21, now a senior at Stanford University, is majoring in history and English literature. She applied for the fellowship that admits her to one of the world's most elite groups after studying last year at Oxford, whose medieval spires and academic traditions have enthralled scholars, writers and poets for centuries.
"They have a different system in England where you study only one subject, which is a refreshing approach to education," said Rice, now home for Christmas vacation. "And I liked the town of Oxford. It is a place full of history and full of romance, if it's not raining.
"When I was there as part of a Stanford program, I had a thought in the back of my head that I might want to apply for the Rhodes scholarship," she said. "I took the time to see if I would really want to spend two years there. It lent substance to the suspicion."
The Rhodes scholarships were established in 1902 by Cecil John Rhodes, a British politician who made a fortune from diamond mines in what is now Zimbabwe. Seventy-two students are chosen each year from around the world. There have been 2,436 Rhodes scholars, including several who went on to become U.S. senators, since the inception of the program. All those selected study at Oxford.
Rice, who grew up in the upper Northwest neighborhood of Shepherd Park and graduated from the National Cathedral School for Girls, is the daughter of Emmett J. Rice and Lois D. Fitt, a senior vice president of Control Data Processing.
Susan Rice described the four days of interviews and receptions by the Rhodes committee in Baltimore as "grueling" and "stressful" but said that she is very happy to have won the honor.
"I am very aware of being black and female because that is what I am," said Rice. "And I think it is very important for other black students to be aware of the scholarship program and see it as a good opportunity for them."
In 1984, Rice did volunteer work for the Black Student Fund, a private nonprofit group that matches bright young black students with private schools and gives scholarships. She also has written a guide used in some school systems to help secondary teachers incorporate aspects of black history into the American history curriculum. It is called "A History Differed."
Rice said her senior thesis at Stanford will recount the experiences of black workers mostly from the South who came by the thousands to work in the shipyards in Oakland during World War II.
When Rice completes her studies at Oxford, she said, she would like to take some time off and then attend law school. "Eventually I see myself becoming a lawyer and settling down in Washington," she said. "Washington is my home and it always will be."