Elijah Christopher DeVaughn, Jr. is a Compton, California native whose faith who attends Harvard. (299546)
Elijah Christopher DeVaughn, Jr. is a Compton, California native whose faith who attends Harvard. Credit: Harvard University

Two students from the Southland who attend Harvard are headed to Oxford to study as Rhodes Scholars.

Elijah DeVaughn of Compton and Carissa Chen of Tustin were among 32 students chosen for the prestigious honor, which provides all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.

DeVaughn is a senior at Harvard, and majors in history and literature. He has an interest in issues of legal representation, clemency and prison advocacy, and has worked for the secretary of legal affairs in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, where he reviewed state prisoners’ applications for commutations and pardons.

DeVaughn is also an actor, dancer and singer, and has worked on housing issues as an intern the office of California Sen. Kamala Harris. At Oxford, he plans to pursue a postgraduate degree in history.

DeVaughn grew up in a single-parent household in Compton in a neighborhood plagued by crime. His father spent 13 years in prison.

“My mom is my superwoman,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in 2017. “When I was younger I remember she was in school working and still trying to raise little old me and I think just watching her on her fight, on her struggle, kind of ignited that fire in me and it showed me, you know, that you can prevail.”

DeVaughn attended Chadwick School, a private school on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, on a scholarship before he was accepted to Harvard.

Chen—who graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, a private school in New Hampshire—is also a senior at Harvard, where she majors in history and is also editor-in-chief of the Harvard Economics Review. A poet and visual artist, Chen identified the first known living descendants of Harvard’s slaves while conducting archival research and initiated efforts to begin discussions on reparations and reconciliation to those families, according to the Rhodes Trust. At Oxford, she will pursue a postgraduate degree in economic and social history.

“I could not have been here without the support of the community—the churches and clubs that have all helped support me all this time. I’m hoping I can just do something to honor them and all the wonderful support they’ve given,” Chen said.

The scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, a British mining magnate, and are provided in partnership with the Second Century Founders, John McCall MacBain O.C. and The Atlantic Philanthropies, and many other benefactors.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, applicants must be endorsed by their college or university. This year more than 2,300 students began the application process; 953 were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities, according to the Rhodes Trust.