Road to the Rhodes: A Conversation with Alexis Doyle and Grace Watkins

Author: O'Neil, Alison

Road to the Rhodes: A Conversation with Alexis Doyle and Grace Watkins

Since late November, the Notre Dame community has been celebrating its two newest Rhodes Scholars, current seniors Alexis (“Lexi”) Doyle and Grace Watkins. Both of the scholars became friends before the application process. They were thrilled at the prospect of continuing their studies together, as well as with a majority-female Rhodes class, at Oxford. Doyle and Watkins, however, both exhibited extreme modesty and gratitude, emphasizing the scholarship as an opportunity rather than an achievement. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When did you decide you wanted to be Rhodes Scholars, and what inspired you to apply?

LD: I saw it more as an opportunity; it was never really a goal. I didn’t actually know the scholarship existed until I was a junior, maybe? I was told by the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement. I just took the time to read about the mission of the scholarship, fighting the world’s fight, and I saw it more as an opportunity.

GW: I didn’t think it was a possibility for me at all, so I didn’t conceptualize that I could be a Rhodes Scholar or do things with that end goal in mind. So it was kind of just something that came up.

Both of you are clearly passionate about making a difference. What are your biggest hopes and dreams for our world’s future?

LD: I would say that something we’re both passionate about is finding opportunity in difference, finding common ground in areas that are often seen as irreconcilable. In this polarized world, I would hope that our generation can be one that focuses on starting with celebrating difference through accepting it and celebrating it as an opportunity for growth and for more resilient ideas.

GW: I think we both really are wedded to the idea of scholar activism as well, through informed action. 

LD: And making things human-centered. You have to inform your theory with the practice that you’re doing on the ground. Most of my learning has come from what I’ve been able to do in South Bend and outside of the classroom.

Lexi, why did you choose soap-making, and how did the enterprise progress since you founded it?

LD: The project has changed a lot since it’s been initiated, based off of the needs of the community that I had the privilege of working with and the women with whom I’ve been working. So the reason we focused on soap is that the Palajunoj Valley, where I was working, has extremely high rates of parasitic infection. I was working there as a fecal sample collector and analyst, so I was seeing the infection under the microscope. When I would go to collect the fecal samples, I could see the pain that it caused the kids who were in school: all of the absences due to parasitic infection and digestion problems, growth-stunting, difficulty focusing and a lot of different things. 

Grace, could you describe your work with Rise and how you became involved?

GW: Oh, it’s incredible! I think Rise especially has been really formative and informative for me: how to maneuver policy and legislative work as well as just working in a national organization where everyone’s working remotely and has full-time jobs at the same time. I am learning more about nonprofit administration and how difficult it is. You spend so much time fundraising to keep things running. But it’s also more flexible than a government position would be. If you have an idea, you pretty much start it. 

To what personal qualities do you attribute your success?

LD: I can speak to Gracie. So, Gracie is one of those people who you’re not going to see a lot because she’s working a lot behind the scenes. I think about how many times she could have given up, but because she’s so talented and smart and just intellectually gifted, she can do anything and produce amazing work. 

GW: I’m a philosophy major, so I do a lot of work on moral philosophy and moral psychology. Sometimes you can get really depressed and think that empathy and altruism don’t really exist because they’re all self-related. But I think that Lexi is the person I think of when I’m trying to push back against that, because I’ve never met anyone with more pure intentions. She’s just… completely selfless.