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Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University
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Taylor Gilfillan '13

Hometown: Raleigh, NC

Major: Physics

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Asst. Head Resident Adviser for First-Year Leadership Council (FYLC)
  • Activities Chair for First-Year Orientation Committee (FYOC)
  • Teaching Assistant for Physics/Engineering Dept.
  • President of Physics Honor Society
  • Varsity Basketball (2009-2012)
  • Traveller Safe-Ride Program
  • Student-to-Student Mentor
  • Lambda Chi Alpha

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • R.E. Lee Summer Research Scholar (2012)
  • Presented at annual OSA (Optical Society of America) Conference in Rochester, NY in October 2012 on summer research findings

Post-Graduation Plans: I have been accepted into the Teach For America 2013 Corps, which placed me in Houston, TX. Come August, I will be teaching high school math and/or science.

Favorite W&L Memory: RA Leadership Staff retreat at the House Mountain Inn

Favorite Class: Tie between Quantum Mechanics with Professor Sukow and Social Psychology with Professor Johnson

What professor has inspired you? My thesis adviser, Professor David Sukow. It has been a privilege to study laser dynamics under such a passionate teacher, someone I consider to be the embodiment of academic professionalism. Through his setting of high expectations on my work and insistence on attention to detail, Professor Sukow has indubitably refined me into the student I am today.

How have you spent your summers? Except this past summer, I have worked every summer as a sports camp counselor at The Alexander YMCA in Raleigh, NC.

Advice for prospective or first-year students? Work hard, stay humble.

Taylor Gilfillan, was named the John W. Elrod General of the Year for 2012-2013 on May 9 during a presentation in Elrod Commons. Gilfillan was one of the 19 Washington and Lee students that the Celebrating Student Success Initiative recognized with General of the Month awards during the academic year.  All of the winners voted for General of the Year.


If there is one thing I want to accomplish by the time I graduate from Washington and Lee, it will be to leave this place even better than I found it. So much of what I do on-campus and in the local community is based on my belief in servant leadership: through meaningful service to others, an individual can create a more compassionate community and develop a humbled approach to life. During my time at W&L, responsibility and leadership have become part of my daily routine, and helping others almost second nature. I credit a large part of who I am today to the community of trust that has invested so much in me, and I work hard every day to give back to it.


Over the past two years, I have put the honor system to the test daily in a unique way. Since Fall term of my junior year, I have continuously left some of my belongings (notebooks, textbooks, occasionally my laptop) sitting at one of the tables in the Commons Living Room, out of simple convenience. Not once in almost two years has anything ever been taken or moved without my consent. Every morning, I arrive at my table and begin to work, greeting people that have become familiar as they pass by every morning. Save for class and going to the gym, I spend the majority of my day working in one spot. Out of this daily habit has come a sense of continuity, to the extent that my friends jokingly text me and ask if I've been kidnapped when they pass by "Taylor's spot" and find that I'm not there.

Jokes aside, my occupation of the Commons Living Room has proved to be more than a simple test of whether or not a member of this community would steal my pencils or books. It has helped me become a better resident adviser by extending my presence on campus, allowing me to regularly host unofficial "office hours" for my residents and other students as well: if they're having a tough day or seeking advice, they know they can stop by my table and chat. It has become a meeting spot, counseling center, and physics tutoring table all in one. I like to believe that when I'm working with friends at my spot, we quietly demonstrate to students, faculty and especially tour groups that W&L is not only a community of trust but also compassion.

Beyond my table, I have applied myself to an assortment of different programs and positions across campus and the local community. My goal has been the same for all of them: I have sought to craft a system of leadership and enthusiasm so that even after I graduate, the programs I have impacted will continue to raise the bar for involvement and set the tone of kindhearted service for others. I aim to ensure that future W&L students can realize the full potential that this remarkable school has to offer.