15 Famous Rhodes Scholars

By: the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.  | 

Rhodes scholars
Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, center, a Rhodes scholar, speaks during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House May 16, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When British businessman Cecil Rhodes died in 1902, his fortune was used to establish the Rhodes scholarship, which brings outstanding students from around the world to study at the University of Oxford in England, generally for two years. Students from any academic discipline are selected on the basis of intellectual distinction, as well as the promise of future leadership and service to the world. Around 103 scholarships are given annually, and some of the most famous scholars are listed below.

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1. Edwin Hubble

Famous astronomer Edwin Hubble received his scholarship in 1910. Having studied science and mathematics at the University of Chicago, he used his time at Oxford to study law. Hubble then returned to the United States to continue his work in astronomy, most notably discovering the existence of galaxies beyond the Milky Way.

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2. Dean Rusk

Dean Rusk, who used his 1931 Rhodes scholarship to study history and political science, served as U.S. Secretary of State from 1961 to 1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

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3. Lord Howard Florey

Australian pharmacologist Lord Howard Florey was awarded his scholarship in 1921 and studied medicine at Oxford. In 1945, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine along with Alexander Fleming and Ernst Chain for their work in discovering penicillin.

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4. James William Fulbright

James William Fulbright, who used his 1926 Rhodes scholarship to study law, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1943, then served in the Senate from 1945 to 1974. Soon after, he established the Fulbright Program to provide grants for students and professionals to study, teach and conduct research abroad. To date, more than 400,000 individuals have received Fulbright grants.

oxford university
The Radcliffe Camera serves as a reading room for the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.
Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

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5. Bill Bradley

William Warren Bradley already had an Olympic gold medal for basketball when he began his study of politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford in 1965. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career in basketball before entering the Senate in 1978 and running as a presidential candidate in the 2000 primary. Also in 2000, Bradley was offered the chairmanship of the United States Olympic Committee, which he turned down. He currently is a member of the board of directors of the American Committee on East-West Accord.

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6. Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton received his Rhodes scholarship in 1968. While at Oxford, he studied law and also played an active part in student life, particularly in protests against the Vietnam War. Fellow Rhodes scholar David E. Kendall later became Clinton's personal lawyer.

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7. Strobe Talbott

Strobe Talbott, who also won his scholarship in 1968 and spent his time at Oxford translating Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs into English, was another of Clinton's Oxford friends. He went on to be Deputy Secretary of State from 1994 to 2001. Talbott was also president of the Brookings Institution — a Washington, D.C.-based political research facility that helped negotiate an end to the war in Yugoslavia in 1999. Talbott currently sits on the advisory board of the D.C. non-profit America Abroad Media.

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8. George Stephanopoulos

George Stephanopoulos used his 1984 Rhodes scholarship to earn a master's degree in theology. During the 1992 presidential campaign, Stephanopoulos served as Bill Clinton's senior political adviser, then as communications director during Clinton's presidency. Stephanopoulos currently is a co-anchor on "Good Morning America" and host of "This Week," ABC's Sunday morning current events news program.

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9. Kris Kristofferson

Well-known musician and actor Kris Kristofferson received his Rhodes scholarship in 1958. He studied English literature, and it was while he was at Oxford that he began his performing career. Since then, his hit records have won him several Grammys. In January 2021, it was announced that Kristofferson had retired.

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10. Terrence Malik

Best known as director of "The Thin Red Line" and "Badlands," Terrence Malik won a Rhodes scholarship in 1966. He studied philosophy but had a disagreement with his adviser over his thesis (the concept of the world in the writings of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein) and left Oxford without finishing his doctorate.

11. Naomi Wolf

American author and feminist social critic Naomi Wolf used her time at Oxford from 1985 to 1987 to begin the research that eventually became the international best seller "The Beauty Myth," which condemns the exploitation of women by the fashion and beauty industries. Wolf has frequently come under fire for promoting conspiracy theories concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccines against COVID-19.

12. Cory A. Booker

Cory A. Booker began his studies at Oxford in 1992, gaining an honors degree in modern history. He was the mayor of racially diverse Newark, New Jersey, the largest city in the state, from 2006 to 2013. He was elected and has served as the junior United States senator from New Jersey since 2013.

13. Randal Pinkett

Randal Pinkett, who earned a masters degree in computer science as a 1994 Rhodes scholar, gained celebrity status when he was hired by Donald Trump after winning season four of "The Apprentice" in 2005. In July 2006, Pinkett served as a co-chairman of the transition team of then newly elected Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, a fellow Rhodes scholar, who now serves as a U.S. senator.

14. Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg is a graduate of Harvard College and Oxford University, which he attended on a Rhodes scholarship. He was the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, from 2012 to 2020, when he ran in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries. President-elect Biden named Buttigieg as his secretary of transportation, making him the first openly gay Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. Nominated at age 38, he is also the youngest Cabinet member in the Biden administration and the youngest person ever to serve as secretary of transportation.

15. Ronan Farrow

Ronan Farrow, the son of director Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow, is an American journalst who researched the exploitation of the poor in developing countries for his philosophy thesis as a 2012 Rhodes scholar. He is best known for his investigative reporting of allegations of sexual abuse against film producer Harvey Weinstein for The New Yorker magazine. The audiobook version of his book "Catch and Kill," read by Farrow himself, was nominated for Best Spoken Word Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards in 2020.

Originally Published: Sep 12, 2007

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