My W&L: Tyler Van Riper '14

I came to Washington and Lee fully intending to take advantage of the fact that students aren't required to declare a major until sophomore year, and then something like fate stepped in. During my first semester, I was lucky enough to get into Professor Keen's "Schools of Magic" Writing 100 course, which was a complete game-changer for me. Sure, English had always been my best (and favorite) subject, but I had never truly considered it as an option in college. This amazing experience was followed by "Wilderness Literature" with Professor Warren, who quickly became one of my favorite professors to bump into on the Colonnade. Suddenly, I was no longer researching requirements for other majors. Payne Hall was my home before I even realized it, which is why I truly feel that the English major chose me.

My experience at Washington and Lee seemed to effortlessly mold itself around my interests and life goals. I became a work study student for the Lenfest Center for the Arts due to my love of performing onstage. I joined the Relay For Life committee because I had been involved in my hometown's Relay. I signed up to spend Spring Term abroad in Ireland with Professor Conner so I could learn more about my Irish heritage. There were never any doors slammed in my face, and I quickly grew confident that my professors, my department, and my university wholeheartedly had my back.

This support became even more apparent at the beginning of junior year. My entire summer had been spent recalling memories from my amazing four-week spring experience in Dingle, Co. Kerry, a small but beautiful town on the Irish coast. The literature, the landscape, the people; I was still fascinated by it all, and I didn't know how to get rid of the "Ireland bug" that had taken up residence within my brain. Luckily for me, a meeting with my advisor showed me that I didn't need a cure; I needed an outlet. I had heard of the Honors Thesis in English but had never really considered it for myself until that day.

That meeting completely changed my last two years at Washington and Lee. My days were now spent brainstorming possible thesis topics: Irish poetry? Literature influenced by revolution in Ireland? Irish drama! Once I finally found it, I began to focus on something else Professor Keen had mentioned: the possibility of receiving an Student Summer Independent Research (SSIR) grant to do thesis research abroad. I had been aching to return to Ireland since the moment I left, and now the university would potentially send me back and foot the bill? It seemed entirely too good to be true, but it wasn't. After drafting a proposal and budget with the help of my thesis advisor, I received the good news: I had been given funding that would allow me to spend nearly two weeks in Dublin, doing research, seeing the sights, and attending as many plays as I could. June could not come fast enough!

My 11 days in Dublin were incredible, sleeping in a dorm at Trinity College, visiting important literary and historical landmarks, seeing shows in the most iconic theaters on the island. I think back to the trip frequently and with fondness, especially as I sit in my library study and try to write actually write my thesis. It's one of the most challenging things that I have ever done, but it has been a tremendously rewarding experience.

Come to think of it, that pretty much sums up my experience at Washington and Lee as well. It hasn't exactly been a walk in the park between taking difficult classes, giving my all to extracurriculars, and squeezing in time for friends, but I honestly wouldn't have it any other way. I am so grateful to attend a university that recognizes the potential in its students and works to give them the means to reach their goals. I am so lucky to have been a part of this Washington and Lee community!