My W&L: Margaret McClintock '15

Washington and Lee provides an exceptional liberal arts education; one not bound by desks or chalkboards but one that thrives on the development of individual students into a community of leaders.

My freshman pre-orientation hiking trip profoundly shaped my first year in Lexington. On our second to last day, just before we reached the summit of our final mountain, a storm overtook our group. We were forced to sprint down its side, hurdling fallen trees while rain and wind threatened our balance. After hours crouched in lightning-drill position as the storm passed, we climbed up the mountain (again). We finally made it to the shelter and we spent our remaining hours together laughing and joking about the whole thing, relieved that nothing bad had happened.

I love leading Pre-Orientation trips. I love the look on the first years' faces as they come to the Pavilion and feel out of place, awkward, and unsure of themselves, anxiously looking around for anything remotely familiar. I love shaping their first W&L experience into something special. But it comes with an enormous responsibility. Leading a trip for the first time made me realize how scary that storm probably was for my leaders. They put all of our safety ahead of their own and the care they demonstrated extended beyond the physical difficulties of the trail to our on-campus struggles.

W&L develops this kind of leader in a way that only W&L can. We are a community of people who genuinely care for the needs of those around us, who want our peers to succeed, who congratulate our competitors, who can have a heated discussion and still leave the table as friends. The strength and the character of this community amaze me every day. But it is not something that sustains itself. It takes leaders who invest time and energy into making our school a better place. That's what I love so much about W&L — everyone here seems to want to contribute to the culture of the University.

The leaders of my Pre-O trip have remained a part of my college experience, even after their own graduation. They checked on me during rush, they recommended me for a competitive class, they introduced me to new people, they called me just to get coffee and check in. More than anyone else, they helped me find my niche in the W&L community. From them, I learned ways to make the most of this incredible experience; but more importantly, I learned how imperative it is to return some of what I have received and give back to the place that has given so much to me, so that generations of students can benefit from it as much as I have.