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Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University
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Alex Gould

Alex Gould

Hometown: Rocky Mount, N.C.

Major: Philosophy and Chinese

Post-Graduation Plans:  I'll move to Kaohsiung, Taiwan, a province of China, in late June and become a monk at Fo Guang Shan Monastery, the largest in Taiwan, on July 1st. I was one of about 35 westerners with backgrounds in philosophy, religion, and Chinese language selected this year by the Woodenfish Program, which immerses interested Westerners in monastic life (Zen Buddhism) for one month and pays all expenses, including airfare. We will wake up at 5:30 each morning and divide our time among meditation/chanting exercises and attending lectures on Buddhist dharma (or doctrine). I'll be eating a vegan diet (just one meal a day), will have virtually no possessions with me, and will be removed almost completely from the outside world. The nuns at the monastery have already hand-sewn for each participant two robes, and, as this is all we are permitted to wear, we will wash them regularly by hand. The one-month immersion program also features a multi-day silent meditation retreat.

At the end of July, many of the participants will return to the States for further study, but it is also possible to continue living at Fo Guang Shan as a full-fledged monastic, and this is what I plan to do. I don't know how long I will live as a monastic -- maybe a few months, maybe a few years, maybe forever -- as my intention is, for the first time in my life, to live one hundred percent in the moment, celebrating the present not as a means to any end but for its own sake alone.

However, at the same time, my intuition tells me that monastic life will probably not be a lifelong commitment, and, if it turns out to be correct, then most likely I will pursue a Ph.D. in Comparative Studies of Eastern and Western Philosophy and go on to become a university professor.

What will you miss most about W&L?

Professors who double as friends and mentors; a campus that epitomizes the liberal arts experience with its red bricks, white columns, and gently sloping front lawn; and an absolutely ideal setting between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains which allowed me to hike, climb, paddle, and ski so often that the outdoors virtually defined my college experience. And also the picturesque little 250-year-old log cabin named Lazy River where I lived for two years; watching the sunset over the mountains with Plato or Nietzsche in hand was always the perfect way to unwind after a long day of classes.

How are you different now than you were four years ago?

W&L forced me to reassess myself not only as a scholar but as a human being. An aspiring neurosurgeon long in the making, I was forced to take a hard look at what I thought were my goals and dreams; ultimately, after a year and half on the pre-med track, I decided that what I was really passionate about was not science but philosophy and foreign cultures and that what I wanted was not a secure career as a surgeon but an unpredictable and exciting life as a world traveler. I changed my major to philosophy and Chinese and, as of now, have studied four foreign languages; traveled widely and mostly alone across Africa, Asia, Central America, and the South Pacific; and published a book about my adventures ( Though it may sound cliché, W&L truly helped me to find myself.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen?

College, like life, passes far too quickly. Live every moment to the fullest.

What do you most look forward to after graduation?

As someone who is moving to Asia and becoming a Buddhist monk after graduation, I admittedly have some reservations about the future–particularly about all the things I will be giving up. But, at the same time, I am tremendously excited about what lies ahead and can’t wait to continue this journey of self-discovery of mine which so readily blossomed at W&L. And though I may travel to worlds far-removed from the quaint environs of Lexington and Rockbridge County, Virginia, I’ll always carry with me a little piece of Washington and Lee and the wonderful memories I formed there, and I don’t believe I’ll ever feel too far away.