On the Rhodes to success

When Evanston Township High School graduate Danielle Sered found out she had won a Rhodes Scholarship, she called her mother to share the good news.

“(My mom) promised to go to the phone book and call everyone she ever met,” Sered said. “I think she actually hung up on me to do that.”

The hangup was understandable. The prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, given to 32 college seniors nationwide for study at Oxford University in England, covers all educational, living, vacation and travel costs. The scholarship may be renewed after two years.

Sered, 22, graduated from ETHS in 1996 and will graduate from Emory University in Atlanta this spring. She will spend the next two years studying English at Oxford.

“I have a real interest in Oxford, which I would not be able to go to without financial support,” Sered said.

In order to win the scholarship, Sered had to display high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor. She said she had tough competition.

“They were all absolutely amazing,” Sered said. “You become convinced you don’t have a chance.”

The scholarship application also required Sered to submit a list of activities, send eight letters of recommendation, and respond to interview questions in both English and French. Sered learned in December that she had won the scholarship.

While at Oxford, Sered said she plans to pursue the university’s equivalent of a master’s degree in English Renaissance literature.

“I’m interested in studying Shakespeare, and the theater where the plays were performed will be a short trip away,” she said. “Oxford’s English department is large. My impression is that it is just a magical place.”

After receiving her master’s, Sered plans to pursue a doctorate and become a professor.

Until she leaves for Oxford in September, however, Sered is concentrating on completing her English major and French minor at Emory.

“I have a thesis due,” Sered said. “If I’m good I’ll lock myself in my room and finish it.”

In addition to working on her thesis and taking classes, Sered tutors and participates in arts activities. During Arts Week this year, she drove friends around campus in a golf cart as they read poems and played guitar.

Lynna Williams, creative writing director and an associate professor of English at Emory, said she knows Sered primarily through the work they have done together in Emory’s arts community.

“She is a very strong package of intellectual ability, enthusiasm and character,” said Williams, who wrote a recommendation letter for Sered.

Richard Dempsey, who coached Sered on the ETHS debate team and helped her win the 1995 state championship, said he expected her to win the Rhodes Scholarship.

“Her progress was always linear,” Dempsey said. “She didn’t run into plateaus, so four years down the road in college I wasn’t surprised she had risen to a higher level.”

Sered still visits ETHS and speaks to the debate team to offer encouragement.

Sered credits some of her success to luck in meeting the right people during college.

“It wasn’t that I was smarter or talked more,” she said. “It was chance. It shouldn’t be left to chance. A freshman student should have someone she can talk to.”

USA Today named Sered to its All-USA Academic First Team. She has won several other awards for her writing and has a book proposal under consideration.