Sticking to the Classics, Lyons Draws National Scholarship Attention

Annee Lyons (C'18) pictured in front of the stacks at Riggs Library
Annee Lyons (C'18), a classics major and film and media studies minor, has won the Beinecke Scholarship and is in the running for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. (Photo: Phil Humnicky/Georgetown University) 

UPDATE (December 4, 2017): Annee Lyons has been named a winner of a 2018 Marshall Scholarship. Congratulations, Annee!

November 10, 2017 — Classics major Annee Lyons (C’18) always wanted to be like Indiana Jones. That’s a tall order, but over the course of her Hilltop career, she’s come pretty close — and prestigious national scholarship organizations have noticed.

Lyons is the 2017 recipient of the Beinecke Scholarship, a national award given annually to students who plan on enrolling in a humanities-focused graduate program and require financial assistance. She’s applying to graduate school now and has just been named a finalist for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships.

Before she was spending her days working on interview skills and weighing her options at some of the world’s greatest academic institutions, she was a kid from small-town Maryland who loved learning about the classics.

CHOOSING A PATH

When Lyons says she’s always loved the classics, she really means it.

“When I was 13, I learned about the burning of the library of Alexandria, and I was heartbroken for the first time,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘How is that possible? How could we have lost so much? What can we learn from what’s left over?’ I knew from there, that’s what I wanted to study.”

Georgetown might have seemed a logical choice for Lyons, a high academic achiever from Maryland who valued the liberal arts. But it wasn’t that simple.

Raised by a single mother on a farm in the small town of Mount Airy, Lyons was nervous about attending school alongside students from more privileged backgrounds.

Still, Lyons wanted stay relatively close to her family — her mother and grandparents stayed in Mount Airy, and her two older sisters both attended The George Washington University — while striking her own path. So Georgetown made the list.

When she opened her acceptance letter and found her financial aid offer, she knew her life was about to change.

Lyons had received the Peter F. Karches Memorial Scholarship, which includes full tuition, room, board, and a stipend to cover general living expenses. For a 17-year-old who had no idea how she would pay for college, it was a godsend.

“It was remarkable,” she said. “When I asked other universities if they could compete with the offer, they said, ‘That doesn’t exist.’”

TELLING UNTOLD STORIES

With the help of the Karches Scholarship and the Georgetown Scholarship Program, Lyons quickly found her home on the Hilltop.

She became a coordinator of the Preparing to Excel Program (PEP). She started a WGTB radio show — Annee Lyons and the Oxford Commas — that would continue through her entire undergraduate career. She even picked up a minor in film and media studies, eventually working with Associate Dean Bernie Cook on the GU 272 Project.

The minor helped fulfill a long-held passion for moviemaking that she had never discussed with anyone but her family.

“I grew up watching Turner Classic Movies with my grandparents,” Lyons said. “My friends loved the Jonas Brothers, Camp Rock, High School Musical, while I was wondering ‘Has anyone seen Singin’ in the Rain?’”

Lyons found time to continue studying classics, of course. Through the classics program, she got the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream: In the summer of 2015, she traveled to Macedonia and Bulgaria to participate in archaeological digs, excavating ancient coins of her own.

“I always wanted to be like Indiana Jones,” she said.

Along the way, though, Lyons ran into a conundrum: A class on Alexander the Great had left her fascinated by the Hellenistic period, but she was terrified of attempting to learn Greek. Having exhausted every course on this period that was taught entirely in English, she had to either choose a different specialty or bite the bullet and learn a new language.

She chose correctly.

“Now, I really love Greek — even more than I love Latin,,” she said.

Through her embrace of Greek, Lyons was able to enroll in classes on the histories and ethnographies of great ancient writers like Thucydides and Herodotus. Herodotus, which she eventually translated in a later course, inspired her more than any classical writer she had encountered.

“It’s exactly the same reasons I love film,” she said. “He’s telling stories. He’s trying to piece things together. He sometimes goes all over the place, and it’s hard to tell where it’s going to end up. He even has magnificent female characters!”

With the help of the Lisa J. Raines Fellowship, Lyons completed a summer program at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and visited archaeological sites described in Herodotus. This year, she’s writing her senior thesis on the portrayal of religious women in Herodotus — a subject that thesis advisor Catherine Keesling believes fills a gap in the scholarship wide enough to fit a book.

“When the stories are all about the emperors and the gold, we’re missing a huge part of that history,” Lyons said. “We’re missing the slaves, the women, the illiterate. Now, we’re training ourselves to see what hasn’t been seen for centuries, and I want to be a part of that.”

AFTER THE HILLTOP

Lyons planned to continue her education and was still concerned with how she’d pay for it.

Fortunately, several of her friends were high academic achievers who were plugged into the world of graduate fellowships. When they noticed the parameters of the Beinecke Scholarship — a student who needs financial aid to pursue a graduate education in the humanities — they demanded that she apply.

“I had no knowledge of any of this stuff,” Lyons said. “But they said ‘That’s you. You need to apply. You’re the perfect candidate.’”

Lyons’ application caught the eye of the Office of Fellowships, Awards, and Resources, which chose her as Georgetown’s nominee for the scholarship (each school is allowed only one). In April, she learned that she was one of 20 students from across the nation to win.

At the urging of friends and mentors, Lyons didn’t stop with the Beinecke win, and it’s paying off: She’s just been named a finalist for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships, with final interviews impending. But regardless of those outcomes, she knows she’s in a great spot.

“I look back to when I first started applying to college, and the question wasn’t ‘Where do you want to go?’ but ‘Where can you afford to go?’” Lyons said. “The Beinecke changes that, just like the Karches did.”

— Patrick Curran