When Jeremy Thomas heard the news Friday that he had won the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, he couldn’t run out to tell his family immediately, because in true 2020 fashion he was stuck on a Zoom video call with the scholarship’s regional selection committee. As he sat and listened to the committee members talk about logistics and next steps, he had to break the news to his parents.
“I texted my parents immediately, I think something like all-lowercase ‘i won,’ and they heard my dad screaming from the other room, which was really really funny on the Zoom call,” Thomas said laughing.
Thomas is one of 32 U.S. students named Rhodes Scholars this year, and will join an international cohort of over 100 bright young minds selected from over 60 countries. The Rhodes Trust pays all tuition and fees for Rhodes Scholars to attend England’s famed University of Oxford for at least two years.
Winning the Rhodes Scholarship puts Thomas in rarefied territory; he joins a group of Americans selected for the honor that includes former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
“It’s been a little overwhelming, but it’s been really exciting,” Thomas said, admitting that he's still getting over the shock of being selected.
An advocate for social justice and diversity (he launched Amherst’s first student-run Office of Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), it’s only fitting that Thomas is part of one of the most diverse incoming cohorts of Rhodes Scholars in the program’s hundred-plus-year history. Thomas is one of ten Black students who were selected from U.S. universities in 2020, which is equal to the highest number of Black U.S. students ever selected in a single year, and 22 of this year’s American recipients are students of color.
Thomas graduated from Fort Bend ISD's Clements High School in Sugar Land in 2017 and has been a student at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts ever since. He’s double-majoring in English and a degree program called Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, and will be graduating this coming May. He’s been back home in Missouri City living with his parents and younger siblings since March due to the pandemic, and will finish his Amherst coursework remotely before heading to Oxford in October.
During his high school days, Thomas studied a plethora of languages — Spanish, French, Mandarin and Latin — as part of the school’s Global Studies Academy with the goal of one day becoming an international attorney who would boldly fight against human rights atrocities across the globe. But as he read more and more about the United States’ criminal justice system and reflected further on his experiences growing up as a young Black man, a desire to help heal the injustices within his home country emerged within him.
“As I started doing more reading and understanding the things that were going on in our country, I [realized] you know, we’re up there in terms of international human rights abuses,” Thomas said, citing our country’s massive incarceration rate, our refusal to do away with the death penalty and the pervasive, lingering effects of the U.S. slave trade.
Thomas isn’t sure exactly what he’ll study at Oxford just yet, but is leaning toward a mix of history and law. Upon completing his studies across the pond, he intends to head to law school to continue the work he’s done as a student with the Georgetown Law Center and the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta to fight for a more equitable criminal justice system.
One day, he hopes to become a public interest criminal justice attorney, ideally somewhere in the South.
“I’m really just excited to get to work… I’m looking forward to taking that knowledge that I learn and the resources that I gain and being able to give them back,” Thomas said. “So I think I’m most excited for afterward, and getting to work.”
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