Forest Hills grad becomes Rhodes Scholar

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids native honored as one of 32 Americans named a Rhodes Scholar hopes the prestigious award will also promote impactful work each recipient will do in their respective careers.

The recipients were interviewed and announced virtually over the weekend for the first time since the trust’s creation in 1902.

Amytess Girgis, a political science student at the University of Michigan and Forest Hills Central graduate, told News 8 she hopes the attention her accomplishment receives will empower others.

“There’s been a lot of talk about how prestigious this scholarship is and while that’s very true, it’s also a beautiful thing that so many of the folks that have been awarded this scholarship care far less about the prestige and far more about working toward a more just and equitable world that we all hope to inhabit,” Girgis said Tuesday. “I’m just trying to stay focused on that and really hope that those who are excited about me having won this scholarship can also get plugged into the work that we are doing.”

The U of M senior, who is Iranian and Egyptian, adds to this year’s recipients representing the most diverse class in the scholarship’s history. A press release from the Rhodes Trust said, “Twenty-two of the 32 are students of color; ten are Black, equal to the greatest number ever elected in one year in the United States. Nine are first-generation Americans or immigrants; and one is a Dreamer with
active DACA status. Seventeen of the winners are women, 14 are men, and one is non-binary.”

“I think it’s really emblematic of the direction we’re headed in this country,” Girgis said. “It’s not just that they have diverse identifies, but they are committed to the work that needs to be done to reconcile with the colonial history of the Rhodes scholarship, but also the injustices that are still plaguing our world today.”

She was referring to Cecil Rhodes, the scholarship’s namesake.

“He has been quoted as explicitly stating multiple times that he believes white people are the superior race,” Girgis explained. “If Cecil Rhodes knew the composition of this class and so many modern Rhode Scholars, he would be turning over in his grave. I have no doubt.”

Of the 3,548 Americans now awarded the opportunity to study at the University of Oxford in England, 605 are women. That’s in part because women could not apply until 1976.

The coveted award grants two or three years of studies at the university. Girgis will enroll for next fall and is interested philosophy, politics and economics.

“I’m really interested in doing research on social movements and how community-based organizations can mount into social movements overtime and after that, I truly have no idea what direction I’m headed, but I think I’d like to get a law degree here in the U.S.,” Girgis said.

That interest has translated to activism on campus. As one of the leaders of One University Campaign, Girgis became a familiar face at rallies and public meetings to push for increased funding and policies that promote more support for the University of Michigan-Flint and Dearborn campuses.

She’s also advocated for fossil fuel divestment and organized a “No War with Iran” protest on campus earlier this year. Girgis’ honors thesis focuses on mutual aid groups in Detroit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her resume makes clear she’s destined for a successful career, a path that began in West Michigan.

“Grand Rapids will always be home to me and Forest Hills Central High School in particular. To this day, I’m still in touch with so many of the incredible teachers that I had there. Knowing those years were formative to where I am now, I’ll forever be grateful,” Girgis added.


Tim Gloege at the Grand Rapids Public Library identified other Rhode Scholars from the area for this report.

According to the Rhodes Scholar Database, there are 86 recipients who called Michigan home at the time of their award.

The most recent is Noorain Khan, also a FHC grad, who now works as a director at the Ford Foundation.

The historian also found Wilburt Cornell Davison (1913), David G. Winter (1960) and William A. Pearl (1914) were named Rhodes Scholars.

As Gloege put it in an email Tuesday afternoon, Girgis is “carrying on a century-long tradition of Grand Rapidians winning this prestigious scholarship.”

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