Hometown: Shreveport, Louisiana
Major: Politics, Shepherd Program
Post-Graduation Plans: Law school
Favorite Class: The Presidency (Politics 335)
Favorite W&L Event: Fancy Dress
Favorite Campus Landmark: The courtyard between Holekamp and Huntley Halls
“A well-rounded education.” It’s an expression bandied about by those college guidebooks, tour guides, high school guidance counselors, and parents transfixed by the vast number of higher education opportunities out there. And for good reason. The idea of a well-rounded education—the philosophical cornerstone of a liberal arts college—correctly presumes that there’s more to college than lectures and papers. It’s the belief that college students should learn how to think, not what to think; that our generation has just as much to learn from members of our community as we do from textbooks; and that these formative years are about growing up as much as they are about preparing for graduate school or the workforce.
It’s easy for a school to identify itself as a liberal arts college simply because of its size, varied course offerings, a strong athletic program, or an array of student activities. But the reality is that most institutions are incapable of delivering an authentic liberal arts experience. Several of the colleges purporting to offer a “well-rounded education” that I visited didn’t come close the rhetoric in their admissions materials—it seemed that students spent all of their time on the sports field, in the library, or at a party. My friends from home who attend some of these schools often complain that they’re either Greek or involved in the community, a straight-A student or a “partier,” a student leader or an athlete. Even in terms of academics, they report being a student of the sciences or an art major, never both.
Not so at Washington and Lee. That’s because at W&L, a well-rounded liberal arts education is more than a bumper sticker or a mission statement—it’s a way of life celebrated by our students, faculty, and staff. Students with interests across disciplines choose to major in biochemistry and art history, accounting and environmental studies, or classics and economics; fraternity and sorority presidents are fellowship winners and members of Phi Beta Kappa; and athletic team captains bring teammates together for community service projects. Over the past four years, I’ve realized that the genius of a W&L education is that it affords its students the opportunity for total engagement—intellectual, civic, social—and inspires energetic participation in every facet of life, on campus and beyond.
When friends back at home ask if Lexington’s rural location insulates W&L students from the challenges facing our country and world, I just smile. Washington and Lee professors do a remarkable job of providing a civic education in the classroom: we take courses in economics that respond to issues in healthcare and education, politics classes that address intractable problems in developing countries and seminars in the environmental studies department that address sustainability. Of all the opportunities for civic engagement available to W&L students, none other shines as brightly in my mind as the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, which has catapulted W&L to the forefront of academic discussions about poverty and material deprivation in the United States—and successfully introduced pressing ethical questions to students from all disciplines.
Learning at Washington and Lee begins in the classroom, but often ends on the athletic fields, the Commons, the fraternity and sorority houses, and even on the Traveller bus. That’ll seem strange if you haven’t made your way to Lexington, but it’ll make perfect sense when you arrive—you’ll quickly note that W&L is full of students with an uncommonly strong commitment to the liberal arts model on which our University was constructed and continues to be sustained. We’re scholars, athletes, and volunteers all at once—and we have a great time doing it.