From Honors Scholar to Rhodes Scholar: that’s the path Aurora Griffin has traveled.
ISI was not surprised to learn that Aurora had been chosen to receive the world’s most prestigious academic scholarship. An ISI Honors Scholar in 2012–13, the Harvard student has consistently displayed exceptional intelligence, character, and leadership.
Aurora says that her ISI experience has been transformative. Of the Honors Program, she writes, “I have never been exposed to such high-quality professors and students for such an extended period, and in so intense a program. It was definitely one of the most formational intellectual experiences I’ve ever had!”
While remaining active in ISI programs, Aurora sat on the Harvard Alumni Association Board of Directors and founded a club for students to volunteer for cancer hospital ministry work at Dana Farber. She became the only undergraduate fellow of the Paul Ramsay Institute, a bioethics think tank. In addition, she served as president of the Harvard Catholic Student Association, the largest student organization on campus. She doubled member involvement by demanding accountability and responsibility. “For me,” Aurora says, “that is what ISI leadership is all about—using good sense to strengthen groups that promote traditional values.”
Aurora is now studying philosophy and theology at Oxford University on her Rhodes Scholarship.
- How did you get involved in ISI?
I discovered ISI through the conservative underground at Harvard. Complete with code words and secret handshakes, almost all conservatives on campus know one another. One such member, Gladden Pappin (a former ISI Honors Scholar), told me, “I think [ISI] is probably the closest group you’ll find to yourself intellectually.” I was drawn to ISI by the promise of intellectual solidarity and have been happily surprised to see that the commonalities go far beyond intellect and extend to morals and sensibilities.
- What has been the highlight of your undergraduate experience thus far?
I had the great pleasure of taking a tutorial with a professor and one other student on Aristotle’s Ethics. We read one chapter each week and then discussed it for hours over tea. The Ethics has been one of the most formative books in my academic career: reading through it helped me better understand the meaning of the good life and formulate my own thoughts about it. I highly recommend everyone read this book carefully. I also suggest that students seek out the opportunity to study in seminars and tutorials with professors. While listening to lectures can teach a lot, discussing something with a professor helps wrestle with ideas on another level. Even going to office hours consistently affords a similar experience.
- What have you valued most about your ISI experience?
Before the Honors Program, I had never met a group of people my own age who were so deeply impressive. My peers were articulate, insightful, and amazingly accomplished. Our discussions were always primarily rooted in the text at hand, but they were rarely confined to one book, since everyone was so well-read. Even though we all had a lot in common in terms of worldview, we had fascinating debates, and their intelligence was astounding. Additionally, I was struck by the moral caliber of my peers—the principles they believed in were consistently lived out in their personal lives. I cannot speak highly enough of the people ISI attracts and educates.
- How have you spent your summers?
The first summer, I worked my old summer job tutoring calculus at an academic enrichment program in California and spent time with my family. This was a great way to process everything after my first year of college. The second summer, I studied neuroethics at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome with a self-designed curriculum of tutorial discussions. I used the philosophical groundwork I had learned in my Aristotle tutorial to inform contemporary debates in ethics. Of course, when I was not at the university, I enjoyed myself enormously wandering the Eternal City. Finally, last summer I attended the Hertog Political Studies Program in Washington, D.C. This was a six-week opportunity to study political theory in the classroom and its practical application to modern politics.
- Whom do you admire most, and why?
As a Catholic, I feel enormously blessed to have had three great men serve as pope in my lifetime. I admire John Paul II for heroically and unflinchingly preserving the principles of liberty in the fight against communism and the culture of death. As a philosopher, his “Theology of the Body” has really influenced my view of the telos of human relationships. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, or “Benedict the Meek,” is an incredible example of a man who was willing to step down from the highest position out of generosity and humility. His theological work is, in my opinion, the best of any living scholar. Finally, we have another kind of pope now: not a scholar but a man of the people. His openness to engaging in dialogue with people from every walk of life sets a great example for all of us.
- What advice would you give to other students who want to preserve the principles of liberty?
Speaking of engaging others in dialogue, I think this is the best way to fight for the cause of liberty on campus. It’s important to have discussions with people who agree with you, and who can help sharpen your rhetoric, by joining groups like ISI. Taking part in public debates and writing op-eds help prepare you for engaging people who completely disagree with you. I also recommend not shying away from discussing religion, politics, etc., at the lunch table. In the real world, it might not make for polite conversation, but in college it is par for the course. Everyone is trying to figure out what their beliefs are, so I’ve found they are happy to engage in meaningful discussion about them.
- What are your plans for after graduation?
For the next two years, I will be pursuing a second bachelor’s degree, in philosophy and theology, at Trinity College, Oxford. I am told that if I do not publicly disgrace the university, the degree will convert into a master’s after a few years. Because of my interest in bioethics, I aspire to help create a society that is more conscious about the ways it is developing and using biotechnologies. Whether this is through a career in law, business, medicine, or politics, we’ll have to see!