My W&L: Shaun Devlin '14

What W&L has given me is clarity of purpose. I began college with a passionate but ill-defined desire to help people. After learning about Washington and Lee's interdisciplinary Shepherd Program, I enrolled in a spring term poverty course my sophomore year. The class required fieldwork, so I volunteered to tutor students at Central Elementary, and that was where I met Norma. Norma was in fifth grade and her family had recently emigrated from Guatemala. She was bright and kind, but she struggled with English and fitting in. She completed homework at top speed; when I asked, "What's the rush?" she explained that she had to hurry home to care for her younger siblings. I told her about college, and she admitted that she could never go. At eleven years old, Norma had accepted that poverty, which defined her household and her school district, also defined her future. Right before my eyes, I saw the education system failing. Through the opportunities provided by the Shepherd Program, I realized that my desire to help others was at its core a passion to help children like Norma receive a quality education, which can help them recognize that their path in life is not decided for them.

Once I set my sights on a career in education policy, it was as if a million doors opened for me at Washington and Lee all at once. I have never known an institution to show such unwavering and individualized support to its students. Economics, politics, sociology, and education professors among others welcomed me and my newfound curiosities with open arms. They challenged me to think critically about the issues facing the public education system today, and encouraged me to volunteer in local schools, to assist them with their own research on youth and education, and to pursue my interests after graduation. Not a day passed without an email from Professor Diette linking to a news article he thought I might be interested in, an impromptu ethical conversation with Professor Pickett on the elliptical at the Fitness Center, or a Campus Notice letting me know about a tutoring opportunity down the street at Waddell. Junior year, I was delighted when my advisor told me that the new education policy minor had been approved, and we worked together to make sure I was able to fit in the required courses before graduation. Any goal that I set, the W&L community helped me reach.

As a result of my four years here at Washington and Lee, I have learned how to articulate that ill-defined desire to help people, and I have gained the skills and confidence to launch a career in a field that I am passionate about. I feel prepared and focused as I take on a position with Teach for America next year teaching high school Spanish in Washington, D.C., but I rest assured knowing that W&L will continue to offer its guidance whenever I may need it.