From the University of Florida graduation to the University of Oxford orientation, Aimee Clesi is headed to one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities this fall.
As UF’s first woman Rhodes scholar and the university’s first recipient since 2000, Clesi was one of 32 students chosen out of 2,300 U.S. applicants to earn the graduate scholarship, which is the oldest in the world for students outside of the United Kingdom to study at Oxford.
The scholarship, which is available only to graduate students, is funded by the Rhodes Trust and covers all university fees as well as a yearly stipend.
Kelly Medley, UF’s external scholarship and fellowship coordinator, advised Clesi in finding the award that was best for her and in developing her application.
“With Aimee, I think, [she] applied to four, five different awards, some of which were better fits than others, ultimately, and a lot of it was about fine-tuning what her goals were, fine-tuning how to sell what she was trying to accomplish and who she was,” Medley said.
The senior philosophy and history double major will pursue a master of science in criminology and criminal justice at Oxford and focus her research on wrongful conviction and the execution of innocent persons. A first-generation college student, Clesi is a member of the UF Honors Program.
Her honors thesis focuses on racial disparities in death penalty sentencing in the U.S. She has pursued multiple legal internships, including with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Florida and the American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project.
Clesi first became interested in wrongful convictions while working at the state attorney’s office in Jacksonville. When organizing case files, she came across a case that reverberated with her.
“I remember this young man who’s at the center of the case, and I was convinced that maybe the state attorney’s office had gotten this wrong,” Clesi said. “There were pieces of evidence that were not presented at trial… and the jury never heard any of it.”
A native of Branford, Florida, she and her twin sister, Erika, both gained interest in UF after participating in UF’s Humanities and Sunshine State program when they were 16.
She said “the program was all about exploring Florida history, seeing the state in its rawest form, being on the water and canoes from Crystal Springs to the Ichetucknee. We explored the water in every way you can think of and its connection to the humanities.”
The program and two of the professors running it inspired Clesi and her sister to pursue degrees in the humanities.
The two were studying abroad at Royal Holloway, University of London when Clesi found out she was selected for the scholarship. She got a chance to travel to Oxford while she was there and speak with The Rhodes Trust.
“They have their own building, their own kind of community within Oxford. And Oxford is a big place. I immediately noticed when Erika and I got there that the city is the school, and the school is the city. It’s a very amazing thing,” she said.
Clesi and her sister both graduate this August. Erika Clesi is planning to start a career in journalism after her summer graduation.
As the thirteenth UF student to receive a Rhodes scholarship, Clesi joins an elite club of recipients from former UF presidents John Tigert and Robert Marston to former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
“I think Aimee is amazing. I think she’s going to go on and do amazing things, and she knows that,” Medley said.
Clesi is most excited about meeting the other Rhodes scholars this fall.
“I think the scholarship is a wonderful gift that gives me the opportunity to meet these talented individuals who want to focus their studies and make a difference in their respective fields as much as I do,” she said. “I look forward to making the most of my time and Oxford, and I can’t wait to get there.”
April 5, 2022