Rhodes Scholar Rhiana Gunn-Wright sets powerful example - FOX 32 News Chicago

Rhodes Scholar Rhiana Gunn-Wright sets powerful example

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Walking the same streets she worked hard to see beyond, Rhiana Gunn-Wright and her mother are on a victory tour of D.S. Wentworth Elementary in Englewood--one of three schools she's visiting after last week's big announcement.

She's the pride of Englewood and one of 32 people chosen from the U.S. this year for the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious academic awards in the world.

1,700 Americans applied for the scholarship, with hopes of joining the impressive list of alumni bankrolled with a fortune set aside by English businessman Cecil Rhodes who made his riches in diamonds from colonial Africa.

United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice is one of the well known African Americans on that list. Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker is another. But, there are not many. For more than 50 years after 1907, not a single black American got the award.

This year's class included a record-breaking three African American females and one of them grew up in Englewood.

"I loved Englewood as a place," Rhiana Gunn-Wright says. "It was my home, and a lot of wonderful people, like you all, live here. But it's hard to remember how awesome you are when there are all these statistics about how many people get murdered in Englewood or people never go anywhere."

Gunn-Wright went to boarding school in Aurora then on to Yale, where she graduated with honors. She's continuing her studies in public policy at Britain's Oxford University.

"They pay my tuition, they pay my room & board, and they also give me a little money to live on. To buy like, hair products and stuff," Rhiana says.

She wants these girls to know she's not that different from them and they can't be afraid to be different from others.

"I felt very nerdy," Rhiana says. "I don't know if any of you feel that way, but I really loved reading books, I really liked going to school, and I didn't see any celebrities that really did that, so I always felt a little bit less cool."

But, many would consider her really cool now. In fact, the new found fame of Rhiana Gunn-Wright is a powerful concept of academic celebrity.

"Its a brand new type of celebrity," Dina Everage of Wentworth says. "On Friday, we did our assembly. It's cool to be smart and she just realized that for my young people, it is definitely cool to be smart. "

"It does make me sad when people sort of hold me up as this giant exception, and how did this happen when I know that there's so much goodness there, that it shouldn't be unexpected at all," Rhiana says.

Rhiana Gunn-Wright is back in Washington D.C. now where she works at the Policy Center for Gender Studies until next October when she starts at Oxford. She's been on countless radio and television programs since last week's announcement.

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