Three seniors awarded prestigious Rhodes Scholarships

An aerial photo of the Oxford University campus.
Oxford University (© stock.adobe.com)

Yale seniors Rayan Alsemeiry, Eren Orbey, and Riley S. Tillitt will head to Oxford University following graduation as Rhodes Scholars representing the United States.

Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for study in England. They were created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, and are “the oldest and best-known award for international study, and arguably the most famous academic award available to American college graduates,” according to Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust.

This year more than 2,500 students sought their institution’s endorsement; 880 were endorsed by 281 different colleges and universities, and 32 were named as U.S. Rhodes Scholars. Candidates are chosen for their academic excellence, personal energy, ambition for impact, and ability to work with others to achieve their goals, as well as their commitment to becoming a force for good in the world. “In short, we seek outstanding young men and women of intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service,” said Gerson.

The winning students “once again reflect the extraordinary diversity that characterizes the United States,” noted Gerson. “Almost half of the winners are immigrants themselves or first-generation Americans.” This was the first year that students whose immigration status is covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were eligible for the scholarship, and one winner this year is a DACA recipient.

Profiles of the Yale winners follow:

Rayan Alsemeiry

Rayan Alsemeiry
Rayan Alsemeiry

Alsemeiry, of Mesa, Arizona is a senior pursuing a B.A. in global affairs with minor equivalents in human rights and economics. After immigrating from Saudi Arabia in early 2001, Alsemeiry and his family endured violent discrimination, profound economic instability, and homelessness. These experiences motivate his desire to understand how government can best address poverty and social exclusion for its most vulnerable communities. Alsemeiry has conducted extensive work with the World Bank, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and the Bronx Defenders, in addition to serving as a policy researcher to former Secretary of State John Kerry. On campus, Alsemeiry has pursued reforms towards greater inclusion and support of first-generation, low-income college students. The Jefferson Awards Association and the Yale Alumni Association have recognized Alsemeiry’s work as “innovative, outstanding, and sustained contributions in service to the greater good.” He enjoys cooking, biking and hiking. At Oxford, Rayan will pursue an M.Phil. in international relations.

Eren Orbey

Eren Orbey
Eren Orbey

Orbey, of Acton, Massachusetts, is a double major in computer science and English language and literature. As a 3-year-old, he witnessed his father’s murder in Ankara, Turkey, an experience that ultimately led to his current book project, which melds memoir, history, and contemporary reporting to create a portrait of his father and his father’s killer. Orbey has won many Yale literature prizes, for writing in both English and French, is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, and has worked as a software engineer at Microsoft. His passion is to produce art that extracts compassion from the trials of trauma. At Oxford, Orbey plans to pursue master’s degrees in global and imperial history and in world literatures in English.

Riley S. Tillitt

Riley S. Tillitt
Riley S. Tillitt

Tillitt, of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is double majoring in history and ethics, politics, and economics. He is interested in reforming U.S. criminal justice and drug policies and has engaged deeply in public service related to criminal justice. He served as a member of the board of directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in Washington, D.C., and as the president of the Yale chapter. He was also the president of the Yale Model Congress and director-general of the Yale Model United Nations China. He served as a policy adviser for Connecticut Governor-elect Ned Lamont, focusing on drug policy. At Oxford, Tillitt will read for an M.P.P. in public policy and an M.Sc. in criminology and criminal justice.