It’s a little unusual to start talking about college when you’re five years old, but that’s exactly what Taylor Myers McLachlan ’08 did, according to her mother, Anne Patterson Braly.
“She got this shirt, I don’t know where from, but it was white and long sleeved, with a navy W&L logo. It was her favorite, and she wore it everywhere for a long time. That’s when she first started talking about W&L, and I explained the 250 years of family members going there. Then when she was five she announced that she was going to W&L, and it’s been her dream ever since. With Taylor, she was always a child who, when she got something in her head, she would stick with it, and that’s what happened with the idea of W&L. She only considered one other college as a back-up when she applied, just in case.”
Growing up in Tennessee, McLachlan says that her family didn’t push her toward W&L. “I’ve really wanted to come here for as long as I can remember. A lot of my family lived here in the Valley and that’s how they came to be tied to the university in the beginning. If I go to any graveyard, I’ve got family members there and, because my mom kept track of the genealogy, I know if someone is related to me.”
Some of those ancestors were influential in the history of W&L, such as John Houston, one the early settlers of Augusta, who was a trustee of 1776 and also of the incorporated body from 1784 to 1791. His son Rev. Samuel Houston was one the institution’s pupils and for more than a third of a century (1791-1826) one of the most influential trustees of the Academy and the College, donating forty acres to the institution. Other ancestors were valedictorians and honorary doctorates. Understandably, McLachlan feels she has a lot to live up to, but also that knowing her family history has “pushed me to accomplish as much as I could.”
One of those who preceded her at W&L is her great uncle, Dr. Robert Glasgow Patterson ’48, B.A. and valedictorian, who notes that McLachlan is the first female in the family to graduate from W&L. “That very fact embodies something important to remember: that with the passing of the years times change, families change, educational institutions change, and the needs of the world change. So, yes, let your ancestors support you toward a goal of having a committed and meaningful life,” he says, “but let your own orientation be to what lies ahead.”
On graduating this year, McLachlan says she has serious regrets about having to leave. “Now that I’ve been here, I never want to leave. I don’t expect to ever feel such a connection to any other place, and I’ll definitely return here as much as I can.”
Braly saw the depth of this attachment to W&L when tears welled in her daughter’s eyes upon realizing she only had one more year before graduation. It also led her to stay on campus every summer to do research because “I wanted to get the most out of W&L while I could.” During those summers, she worked with other students in the laser dynamics laboratory which resulted in being credited as a co-author of two papers published in research journals. “All the students did a fantastic job,” says David W. Sukow, associate professor of physics and engineering.
McLachlan, who has a double major in physics-engineering and chemistry-engineering, has received an assistantship to Georgia Tech to earn a Ph.D. in material science and would like to work on the cutting edge of research in industry.
One gets the feeling that she will succeed with the same single-minded determination that the little girl in the white shirt with the W&L logo achieved her dream.
Read more about Taylor McLachlan's family connection to W&L in the forthcoming summer issue of W&L: The Washington and Lee University Alumni Magazine.