Lexington man is named Rhodes Scholar

Victor Yang of Lexington was named a Rhodes Scholar on Nov. 20, 2011.
Victor Yang of Lexington was named a Rhodes Scholar on Nov. 20, 2011. Courtesy of Victor Yang

A Lexington man is among the 32 American students who were named Rhodes Scholars on Sunday.

Victor Yang, 21, a senior at Harvard College concentrating in history and science and a 2008 graduate of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, will be awarded one of the world's most prestigious scholarships to study at Oxford University. He will start at Oxford in 2012.

Yang said in a telephone interview from Boston on Sunday night that he learned of his selection late Saturday and immediately called his parents, Ming Zhang and Dong Yang, with the news. He said he was thrilled but surprised.

"I feel like through my entire life, my family, my friends and my mentors have always been much more believers in me than I am in myself," Yang said. "This is really a testament to all of the sacrifices that my parents have made for me, and to what good people I have had around me in my life."

Yang said he's mainly looking forward to coming home for Thanksgiving. He has a younger brother, Mike Yang, 16, a junior at Dunbar.

While in high school, Yang was a National Merit Scholar and a Presidential Scholar, and he earned a perfect score on his ACT college-entrance exam, among many other accolades. In 2009, Yang was an intern at the Herald-Leader.

Elected as a junior to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, Yang has focused his academic career on medicine and society, according to a news release from the Rhodes Scholar program. Yang also studied at Oxford last spring, winning the Oxford Law Society essay competition.

While at Harvard, he directed a non-profit program that connected low-income patients in Boston to community resources. He was a public-policy intern with the National League of Cities; conducted a project on HIV/AIDS antiretroviral services in South Africa in 2010; and taught English in Bulgaria in 2009. He also was a staff writer for the Harvard Crimson newspaper.

At Oxford, Yang will pursue a master's degree in public policy.

The Rhodes Scholarships announced publicly early Sunday provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the university in England. The winners were selected from 830 applicants endorsed by 299 colleges and universities. The scholars will enter Oxford next October. The value of the scholarships averages about $50,000 a year.

Besides Yang, this year's Rhodes Scholars include Ronan Farrow, a son of actress Mia Farrow and director Woody Allen who had a bachelor's degree by the time he was 15. He enrolled at Yale Law School at age 17, graduating in 2009 and, at 23, he works as special adviser to the Secretary of State for global youth issues. At Oxford, though, he plans to study international development.

Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.

The American students will join an international group of scholars selected from 14 other jurisdictions around the world. About 80 scholars are selected each year.

With the elections announced Sunday, 3,260 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 314 colleges and universities, according to the program.

The most recent Kentuckians to receive Rhodes Scholarships were Monica Marks, a Rush native and University of Louisville graduate, who won the award in 2008; and in 2009, Chase Palisch, a Calvert City native who graduated from Centre College, and Scott M. Moore of Louisville, who graduated from Princeton University.