Lillian Ngo Usadi spent four hours on a Zoom call bracing herself for the bad news.
After two days of interviews, all done through Zoom due to the ongoing pandemic, Usadi decided to convince herself that she would not be named a Rhodes scholar. That way, she said, she would not be disappointed.
But Usadi prepared herself to receive the wrong news.
Usadi, a first-class midshipman, is the Naval Academy’s 53rd Rhodes scholar. Instead of going directly into the fleet as a submarine officer, she will attend Oxford University for two years. Then she will join the Navy.
It’s a bittersweet moment. She’s excited to continue her studies, as someone who loves learning. And she’ll be joined in Oxford, England, by other academy graduates who are studying through other scholarships. But at the same time, she is a little sad that her friends will be joining the fleet without her.
As a Rhodes scholar, Usadi plans to study energy systems, she said. Usadi is currently studying electrical engineering at the academy, and the energy systems program allows her to examine the policy side.
She plans to bring back what she learned to the Navy, especially when it comes to lessons about rising sea levels, a topic that is concerning to the fleet.
“It’s a lot more long term, but I want to be able to help in the efforts here to combat climate change and just help the environment, which would of course help the Navy in terms of their infrastructure and the survival of naval bases, but as well as the infrastructure of humanity as a whole on people who live on the coast, very small islands,” she said.
She is excited to learn from the professors at Oxford, as well as the community of Rhodes scholars. She is one of 32 Americans selected for the honor, and she will be joined by Rhodes scholars from across the globe.
“I’m really excited to meet people from as far away as China to people who are from a small country in Africa,” she said.
Usadi has been to England before, among other countries — her parents currently live in Singapore — so the challenge of moving to a new country is not daunting, she said. Especially one that speaks English.
She is excited to embrace aspects of the British culture, including visiting the West End and enjoying the BBC Proms musical festival, if it resumes in 2021.
Usadi said she owes becoming a Rhodes scholar to her parents, friends and advisers who pushed her to apply and succeed. Up until a few weeks before the deadline, she had decided not to apply for the prestigious award, she said.
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“Especially because of the current state, I really do want to [...] represent the U.S. Navy and U.S. military in the best light, in that we are a military that is fighting for democracy and freedom, and despite maybe what other people or other Rhodes scholars might see in the news, that’s not how I see it,” she said. “And obviously, I believe in all of the ideals that we’re fighting for, so I really hope to bring perspective and show them what the United States military is really about.”