Madison Zickgraf, a senior English major from Mount Juliet, TN, made the list of American finalists for the 2021 Rhodes Scholarship, the oldest and perhaps the best-known international fellowship program, which enables exceptional young people from around the world to study at the University of Oxford.
This year, more than 2,300 students representing the United States began the extensive application process, and Zickgraf was among the 238 candidates that reached the final stage of the competition. The 32 scholarship winners from the United States were announced Nov. 21.
“It was an honor to make it to the final stage of this rigorous application process. Even though I did not receive the Rhodes scholarship in the end, I made friends with 14 amazing individuals who will make such an impact on their communities,” says Zickgraf. “This experience reaffirmed my commitment to ‘education as a practice of freedom,’ as bell hooks says. Now, I am even more aware of my responsibility to use my intellectual interest in literature and moral commitment to transformative justice to make things better for those around me.”
Applicants for the Rhodes Scholarship must be endorsed by their college or university. Zickgraf was lauded for her intelligence, drive, insightfulness, and empathy by her recommenders at Rhodes College.
A graduate of Mount Juliet High School, Zickgraf has developed a passion for Rhodes College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program, which offers a for-credit “Culture and Values” course to about 20 incarcerated women at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary. Zickgraf has been the student director of the program since its beginnings. In this position, Zickgraf’s leadership has been essential, requiring her to deal with a host of logistical obstacles and requiring a huge time commitment.
“Her empathy for incarcerated students and dedication to getting this program running, while at the same time being an excellent student, is truly remarkable,” says Dr. Robert Saxe, co-director of postgraduate fellowships at Rhodes College. “When she gave an informative presentation on the program in a Rhodes faculty meeting, the professors marveled at her poise and the depth of her passion. Without her skills and dedication, the program might not have achieved its success.”
Zickgraf has worked as a fellow for the Shelby County Mayor’s office and intern for the Nashville Public Defender. She also has served as a volunteer for Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
In leadership positions on campus, Zickgraf serves as chief of staff for Rhodes Student Government and was a student senator from 2018 to 2020. In addition, she has worked as a writing fellow, teaching assistant for first-year writers, and a student associate for Rhodes’ alumni office.
Zickgraf plans to continue working in prison education after graduation. In the fall of 2022, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in English literature, with the intention of becoming a professor and expanding access to higher education for incarcerated people.
Students interested in learning more about the Rhodes Scholarship application process and other nationally competitive postgraduate scholarships should contact Dr. Esen Kirdiş, co-director of post-graduate fellowships at Rhodes College.