My W&L: Tom Wolff '14

My goals for college were bold, idealistic, and fitting for a liberal arts education. Even before I graduated high school, I knew I wanted a degree in American Studies. A succession of great teachers had given me a passion for history and literature, and I hoped to use it to better understand the society around me. With its interdisciplinary approach to American culture, I knew the American Studies major would foster just that. Despite what people said about humanities and the job market, I knew that such a degree would be truly invaluable. Even if it didn't promise the most lucrative results, I was confident that an American Studies curriculum was vital to good citizenship.

Naturally, my goals met practical challenges early on. Good schools tend to have high tuition. Both my parents were self-employed in a struggling economy. Acceptance letters meant nothing without heavy financial support. My situation has not been uncommon, and in this sense I know many people who would argue that W&L has really saved them. Few institutions are as committed to minimizing the cost of a quality education as Washington and Lee. Year after year, the school has made itself affordable to qualified and deserving students around the country. W&L eliminated a major obstacle in my academic pursuits, allowing me to focus on the important parts of my college experience.

Washington and Lee was my top choice in applying to schools, but it may as well have been my only one. The school has never once stopped me from pursuing my goals, even when it lacked a formal American Studies major. Thanks to the independent work major program we have, I was able to engage in American culture from day one. Using courses already existing in our catalog and personal independent studies when needed, I was able to build my own major with no difficulty at all. With the ability to choose my own requirements, I've had more control over my education than I would have almost anywhere else. As a result, my academic career has been more fulfilling than I could have possibly imagined.

My studies have been just short of all-encompassing. What started as a fusion of English and history has come to incorporate philosophy, politics, sociology, and more. By the time I graduate, I'll have learned far more than the historical context of Melville and the ins and outs of progressive politics. I'll have known the fun in talking about status and power dynamics, the joy in understanding twentieth century art, and the brutal misery of reading The Critique of Pure Reason cover to cover. Better yet, I'll have had these experiences with a brilliant and accessible faculty. I've spent hours upon hours talking with professors in their offices, whether over simple points or ramblings that never made it into class discussion. My education here has been about as personal as it gets, and has entailed more than I ever expected. My interests are far broader than when I first set foot in Lexington, and my passion for learning has only grown.

Of course, any student will tell you that college is about more than going to class. W&L's allowed me to be creative well outside my major. After shooting digital images throughout high school, Photo 100 pushed me to finally embrace film photography. Though I never pursued a photo major, I've continued to shoot throughout my career here with the resources and support of the university. And this isn't unique to me. As an editor for Muse, W&L's student literary arts magazine, I've truly enjoyed getting to know the expressive side of my peers in ways that can't appear in a classroom. Great things are in the works here, and I look forward to seeing them flourish in the future.

Washington and Lee has given me the chance to not only achieve my goals but surpass them. I cannot think that I would have made the same personal and intellectual growth had I not gone here. It gives me great pride knowing that I attend a school with initiatives like the W&L Promise, which will extend the same opportunities I've been given to students to come. I look forward to watching this place become an even stronger community of creative, passionate, and critical students.