In a convocation speech at Kentucky State University on Wednesday, Sept. 24, Rhodes Scholar Rhiana Gunn-Wright said she hasn’t done anything to change the world yet, but the Rhodes scholarship “is an opportunity to do that.”
A native of Chicago, Gunn-Wright was raised by a single mother in Englewood, a neighborhood known for poverty, drugs and violence. Her grandmother and mother taught her the value of an education and placed her in the best schools possible. Gunn-Wright said she once thought of education as simply a way to get a good job.
“I was raised to think about education as a means to an end,” she said.
But once she arrived at Yale she learned about “activism through academia.” Gunn-Wright said she learned that education was also a way to learn more about herself and to fight for justice.
Gunn-Wright said she’s made mistakes in her life and sometimes felt like a failure, but she told KSU students that failure happens.
“You will screw up,” she said. “The really important thing is how you bounce back.”
Gunn-Wright graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in 2011 with majors in African American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies.
She has worked for the Office of the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and is currently studying at Oxford University, England. She is working on a master’s degree in comparative social policy. Previously, she worked as the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow of Women and Public Policy at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Gunn-Wright will graduate from Oxford University in 2015 and plans to return to her native Chicago to begin consulting work and to attend law school.
She showed photos of Oxford during her presentation at KSU and encouraged students to study abroad if possible.
“You get to be in this beautiful place and just think,” Gunn Wright said.
KSU President Raymond M. Burse said he’s hopeful that KSU can produce a Rhodes Scholar soon.
“I think each and every one of you is absolutely fantastic, and your future is unlimited,” Burse told students before Gunn-Wright was introduced by KSU’s General Counsel Lori Davis.
Janessa Graham, a senior from Chicago, was familiar with the neighborhood in which Gunn-Wright grew up. Graham said Gunn-Wright’s story motivated her to continue striving for success no matter the obstacles.
“She’s like a game changer,” Graham said. “Her story was impactful and inspirational.”