My W&L: Darlon Jan '15
When walking outside the second floor of Lenfest in the evening, soft lights illuminate the words: "To promote literature in this rising empire and to encourage the arts have ever been amongst the warmest wishes of my heart. – GW" Usually, if a quote or monument warranted lighting, powerful lights would be cast upon the letters; to have them contrasted against the brick walls that house them and to highlight for the visitor who ventures beneath that octagonal roof to clearly see and read them. That is not the case with Washington and Lee. When I first visited in the March of 2011, I failed to notice these words at night. When I saw them the next morning I realized something about Washington and Lee was profoundly different.
Brochures and the website will emphasize and describe our heritage and traditions of honor, trust, and community. One needs to look no further than our self-scheduled final exam blocks, our ability to leave things out in the open with no fear of thievery, our faculty and professors, and our interactions with other students to see that these traditions present and intertwined within our school. The light on the quote is soft because the quote is a daily part of the wall, just as two and a half years of personal experience have shown me that these traditions are a daily aspect of Washington and Lee. From Dr. LaRiviere's and Dr. Uffelman's offers to help drive me to the local Kroger to pick up groceries over Thanksgiving break to the simple smile and hand wave when walking by someone on campus, W&L's sense of community and support for one another remains a core value. There is a joy here, from the smiles and hellos of the speaking tradition to the small student body that allows for name recognition and stronger interpersonal connections. Supportive professors and faculty go that extra mile, whether it be holding General Chemistry office hours well past seven p.m., offering multiple review sessions for concerned biochemistry students eight, or nominating and helping a student who needs greater practice in timing get a summer research opportunity at MIT (Thank you Dr. I'Anson and Dr. LaRiviere!).
W&L is about the people who make the traditions and community succeed. The professors that encourage you to enter research, that nominate and help you with research opportunities such as the HHMI EXROP, that help you arrange housing over summer, that inspire you with their life stories and experiences, and that remind you why you were interested in the field you wish to study. As a freshman, my objective was to enter medical school after college. While I had passions in history and philosophy in addition to science (more accurately what I thought was science back then), I had been interested in becoming a physician since I was young child for personal reasons. Consequently, though I wanted to get a liberal arts education and explore numerous fields and options, I expected that all of the goals I pursued would have to funnel in the direction of medical school to a certain degree. The college experience was becoming condensed into a step towards medical school. By midterms my freshman year, this mentality was retired. I was still interested in medical school, but my interest had been refined into a love of science with its questions and experiments, its frank and unabashed admittance of "don't know" for many questions, its drive to learn, test, and discover. I began to understand the mission of medicine and science as to learn, heal, and apply for the betterment of society and human life.
As children we feel some ego boost or joy at the instillation or reaffirmation of a value. The learning or instilling of patience does not stand out to us (as important as it is), though we are often told that one day we will understand. We are also often told that college can or will have one of the biggest impacts on our lives. Often we forget as college applicants that four years of college represents a substantial percentage of our life to date and thus plays an important role in shaping both who we will become in the future and our memories of what we did with our lives. These past two and a half years at W&L have dramatically shaped my life, from afternoons in the lab to film nights that become more about side discussions than the film. From the pomp and excitement of Mock Con to the fretful pen and pencil lines dancing across papers in review the night before an exam. At freshman orientation over two years ago, President Rusio said that the friends we make these four years will carry over throughout our lives, and he was right. The closest friends and bonds that I have ever made in my life have come from W&L. Such a place is not just a college or a community, it is a family. Just as community, trust, opportunity, and unity are an inherent part of a family experience, these experiences are a part of W&L. The W&L experience does not require glaring lights to highlight and remind us of them; it is fused into the walls of our school, into the classes taught in Huntley and the Science Center, into the artery-like brick paths that link Lee Chapel, Robinson, and Huntley.
As I look at soft lights on the quote each night walking through, I am remind of that impression I had over during my first visit--that W&L does not seem that a place that words could describe in the Aristotelian categorical terms. W&L has more of that indescribable, continental, philosophical feel of Derrida and Foucault, and it feels wonderful.