Seniors Jamal Burns and Kendall Jefferys named Rhodes Scholars.

Two Duke seniors were named Rhodes Scholars on Sunday

This year, 953 students applied to travel to the University of Oxford on the all-expenses-paid Rhodes Scholarship. Two of the 32 recipients, seniors Jamal Burns and Kendall Jefferys, hail from Duke, becoming the University's 51st and 52nd recipients. 

To Burns, the experience of being selected from among a “wildly talented” group of finalists was “a whirlwind of emotions.”

“I cried … like a river, well, more like an ocean. Well, actually, a river which flows into an ocean which flows into another ocean. I was simply shocked and although I told myself I would not cry, I could not keep my excitement at bay,” Burns wrote in an email.

Burns, a history major, applied to study social anthropology and comparative education. Although he doesn’t plan to change his academic path, the program does allow students a short window to change their plans before starting at Oxford—so he is “reviewing [his] options just to be safe,” he wrote. 

Burns is a Mellon Mays undergraduate fellow at Duke and has served as co-president of Duke Low-Income, First-Generation Engagement (LIFE). He has also helped promote a new form of speech and debate called performance debate, according to bios released by the Rhodes Scholars program. 

Jefferys, a double major in English and environmental science and policy, will pursue graduate programs in both English and biodiversity, conservation and management. She is a Rachel Carson Scholar at Duke, has been involved in Sustainable Duke and studied at the Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C., according to a Duke news release

“Considering applying to graduate programs, I felt so torn between pursuing marine science or pursuing English,” Jefferys wrote in an email. “A mentor encouraged me to apply for the Rhodes, as it would allow me to continue combining my different disciplines and interests to address environmental issues.”

Upon learning that she’d received the scholarship, she wrote that she did not have words at first. 

“I greatly admired the other finalists; they were all inspiring! Hearing my name brought a mix of emotions. Most of all, it was humbling,” she wrote.

Duke has now had 52 Rhodes Scholars. Gabriella Deich, Trinity ‘20, became Duke’s 50th recipient of the scholarship in 2019. 

Three Duke seniors were named as part of the program in 2018. 


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