Rhodes Scholar Ziyi Wang: Accomplished athlete and aspiring stateswoman

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This article is the third in a three-part series about Stanford’s Rhodes Scholars-elect for 2021: Nicolas Fishman, Abdallah AbuHashem and Ziyi Wang. If formally accepted by the Rhodes trustees, the trio will join a cohort of 99 other scholars-elects from around the globe on a full scholarship to the University of Oxford in England.

She was only eight years old when she picked up her first golf club after following her father to the green. Ever since that moment, Rhodes scholar-elect Ziyi Wang ’21 says she knew she would be a golfer; now Wang plays Division I for Stanford. 

Wang, a Beijing native, is much more than a golfer. As a child, she made a promise to herself that she would read “Les Miserables,” the classic French novel by Victor Hugo. It was a grand dream — not only did Ziyi not speak French, but the novel is one of the longest ever written in Western literature. She says she remembers her father’s warm amusement when she first picked up the book in her family’s library: “Ziyi, you don’t even speak English yet!”

Needless to say, Wang never takes no for an answer. Once she got to Stanford, she picked up French from scratch, in addition to already speaking both Mandarin and English. That same zeal spills over into her daily life, according to her peers and professors, who describe a hardworking and humble student in every sense of the word. “Determined” is the word that Professor Condoleezza Rice uses to characterize Wang.

Rice, a former Secretary of State and now director of the Hoover Institution, shares a special bond with Ziyi: They’re also golfing buddies. 

“I keep telling Ziyi that I want to have a golf swing like hers, and she tells me she wants to have a career like mine,” Rice said.

As a student-athlete, Wang is impressive on the green and off. In 2019, Wang played in the finals at the NCAA championships; before that, she held several junior records in China. Even when not golfing, her coach Anne Walker says she has been phenomenal. 

“She’s empathetic and always says yes to any request made of her,” Walker said. “Of particular note, Ziyi has welcomed our lone international freshman to campus this fall and made sure that they felt comfortable and cared for.”

Wang is the first Stanford student-athlete to earn a Rhodes Scholarship in seven years. The award, which is given to 102 candidates who show a passion for “leadership and commitment to service,” brings scholars from all over the world to study at the University of Oxford in England; this year, two other Stanford students, Nicolas Fishman and Abdallah AbuHashem, join Wang in earning the accolade. 

Now that she has won the award, Rice says Wang is well on the way to “carving her own path” as a stateswoman committed to international cooperation; Rice pointed out that Rhodes scholars have a history of impacting the world. 

Wang has already put her passion for public policy into practice at Stanford. Working with fellow students and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, a Hoover fellow and former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, Wang spent the summer researching bipartisan lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

McMaster had only positive things to say about Wang, calling her “exceptional” and one of the most hard-working students he has ever worked with. Wang’s peers paint similarly glowing pictures of her. Carter Clelland ’21, a friend who worked with Wang on the COVID-19 research, praises Wang’s warmth and maturity in everyday life.

“She’s able to intellectually examine China and the United States — she critiques both countries instead of taking sides, and she’s always looking for areas of cooperation,” Clelland said. “She’s truly one of a kind.”

In the future, Wang says she dreams of a career across the public and private sectors. Most of all, she hopes to serve as a liaison between the United States and China, working to build cooperation on global challenges like the climate crisis.

Contact Yash Dalmia at yashdalmia ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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