EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest and arguably most competitive in the world. Each year, 32 students from across the U.S. are chosen - not just for their academics but for character, commitment to others and the common good and the potential for leadership. They get a full ride to continue their education at University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Out of 826 finalists this year, a graduate of East Grand Rapids High School and University of Michigan can now call herself a Rhodes Scholar. We had the opportunity to meet Rachael Merritt - who chatted with us from Russia.
"It was like 3 am in Moscow and I found out and so my mind was like blank I was just couldn't believe it I was super excited. I also just came to the realization I’m going to move to England and I get to keep studying at Oxford"
That was Rachael Merritt’s initial reaction when she learned she was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. School and learning are so important to her, starting during her days in East Grand Rapids.
One of the programs she really enjoyed was a constitutional debate team, researching the philosophical or historical underpinnings of the constitution. She says it was a big deal for her.
After graduating from East Grand Rapids, Rachael headed to the University of Michigan, and her focused field of study, Russia and eastern Europe. She knew she wanted to go to grad school, and still relies heavily on the relationships she made through U of M.
She says she also wants to thank her community, her friends, her teachers and her support system here in west Michigan. She says the community of East Grand Rapids has been incredibly supportive.
"It’s awesome that everyone is reaching out and reconnecting and to feel like you have an entire community behind you is really a gift to be able to experience that," she said.
For young students who may have big dreams like hers, Rachael shares some advice. She says don’t underestimate people who believe in you in your life and people who are there to support you because it's a really powerful thing.
At Oxford, Rachael plans to continue to focus on Russian and eastern European studies and internet governance, essentially the social science of the internet. She wants to integrate those to help maintain a place that promotes democracy and freedom - either through a non-governmental organization, academia or the federal government.