Hometown: Charlottesville, VA
Major: Politics with a concentration in Poverty Studies
Favorite Place in Rockbridge County: The top of House Mountain
Coming to W&L as a freshman, I could have never foreseen the individual transformation I would undergo. I was drawn to the school by the fading footsteps of an admired neighbor, respect for the honor system, and a love of the outdoors. W&L's reputation for churning out Fortune 500 CEOs strengthened my decision, and I enrolled in the College with the full intention of becoming a business major.
The business program here at W&L is stellar, but over the next two years I had a change of heart. Two classes in particular had a profound impact on my decision to explore other areas of interest—Professor Harlan Beckley’s Poverty 101 course and Professor Tyler Dickovick’s class on international development. My shift of interest was a studied decision that involved many office-hours chats with professors. Through them, I discovered a fascination for the history, politics, and culture of sub-Saharan Africa, and I began to look for ways to focus my research paper topics on the region. I wrote about the AIDS pandemic in southern Africa, former President Bill Clinton’s decision not to intervene in Rwanda’s genocide, the similarities between the reconciliation processes in South Africa and Rwanda, and the inequitable education of girls in sub-Saharan Africa.
My first leap into Africa amounted to a face-plant. The summer after my sophomore year, I completed my Shepherd Alliance International Internship—teaching English at a primary school in Barberton, South Africa and working in a school for AIDS orphans in Ezulwini, Swaziland. I’ll never forget the terror I felt the first hot African afternoon I stood in front of my class in Barberton—sixty smooth ebony faces tilted eagerly up to mine as I fumbled through my introduction. The children I taught were a powerful example of African resilience in the face of hardship, and I came away from the experience in love with the continent and determined to return.
My second landing in Africa was more graceful. Under the guidance of several professors, I researched, wrote, and revised a grant to set up a small library in Rwamagana, Rwanda. More months were spent ordering books, soliciting donations, meeting with local librarians, and learning that there is a veritable army of forces behind the calm façade of an organized book shelf. I negotiated flight prices with a travel agent, opened up a bank account for the grant money, and even found a way to incorporate a pre-library hike of Mount Kilimanjaro with the W&L Outing Club! At the end of the summer, once again I returned to W&L feeling humbled and inspired by the strength of a people who had been dealt a tough hand in life.
Choosing to come to Washington and Lee University was the best decision I have ever made. The faculty are committed, the opportunities are abundant, and the student atmosphere is lively and fun. I have made incredible friendships that will last well into old age. Nowhere else could I have hoped to be so guided and supported in the personal discovery of my academic and life paths.