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My W&L

"I have been challenged to step outside my comfort zone, encouraged to pursue my passions, and nurtured as a student, a leader and an individual."

Anna Russell Thornton '16

The skills I have learned as an English major have set me up for success in any leadership role. When I write an English essay, I scour pages and pages of books and articles to gather data points, many of which boil down to something as minute as finding the same word recurring in multiple key moments. I sort through that data for the most useful pieces and reassemble them into an innovative, defensible argument. This ability to synthesize and summarize in a cogent, articulate way has opened many doors to me. Professors like Professor Connelly and Provost Conner identified my writing skills and encouraged me to pursue incredible opportunities which changed my life personally and professionally, leading me everywhere from Washington, D.C. to Dingle, Ireland. Further, the data collection and design skills I learned in the English classroom equipped me to serve in unexpected ways, including as Web Chair for Mock Convention. And, of course, knowing how to articulate my thoughts proves invaluable anytime I give a speech or lead a meeting of ODK.

Holding a titled position is just one kind of leadership; just as important is being willing and able to elevate the quality of conversation just by being present. I first practiced leadership in the English classroom, learning to express my opinion even when it differed from that of my professors and classmates. Further, I discovered that understanding a story required stepping out my own skin and into the skin of a character or characters in that story. In order to grasp what stands between Jake and Brett in The Sun Also Rises or to discern the dissonance in the apparently happy endings of Jane Austen novels, one must read with great care and diligence. English majors learn to hear not only what is being said, but also what it is left unsaid. Through my reading, I have learned to empathize with others, to put my perspective aside and listen carefully without judgment. This, to me, forms the foundation of leadership; attending to others and working with and for them to find a good solution.

Last semester, a dear friend of mine died in a tragic accident. The drive from the funeral to the gravesite took about two hours, and when I thought about what book I wanted with me, I chose The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. It is a story of light and darkness, of being different and disregarded, of the power of empathy and the ridiculousness of love. A small, odd mouse called Despereaux is sent to the dungeon for speaking to a human, the Princess Pea, with whom he has fallen in love. There he meets the jailer, who hears him cry out in the darkness the only words of comfort he knows: "Once upon a time." The jailer picks up the mouse and asks him to finish the story, saying: "Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell a story. Make some light." That sums up what I hope to do with my life: to encourage others to tell their stories, to listen, and to join with them in shining the light of love, the only power that can combat darkness. I am forever grateful to the people of Washington and Lee for helping me do that. Here I have been challenged to step outside my comfort zone, encouraged to pursue my passions, and nurtured as a student, a leader and an individual. Wherever I go in life, I am indebted to Washington and Lee for helping me get there, and I look forward to giving back any way I can as an alumna.

Anna Russell Thornton '16

Hometown: Nashville, TN

Majors: English and Politics

Minor: Education Policy

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Peer Counseling
  • Mock Convention (Web Chair, Speakers Committee Consultant, Stage Manager)
  • Omicron Delta Kappa (President)
  • Reformed University Fellowship (Ministry Team)
  • Presidential Fellow for the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress
  • Courses & Degrees Committee
  • Work Study for Professor Connelly
  • Student Teaching and Tutoring
  • Chi Omega Fraternity

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Semester at Worcester College in Oxford, England
  • Spring Term with Professor Conner in Ireland
  • Washington Term with Professor Connelly in D.C.

Post-Graduation Plans: Masters of Education or Teaching

Favorite W&L Memory: Singing along to "Proud to be an American" on headset in the wings of Mock Convention with my Assistant Stage Manager Ford Carson.

Favorite Lexington Landmark: The Bookery is my happy place.

What's something people wouldn't guess about you? I love rap. It started with memorizing all the raps in Beyoncé songs and just expanded from there.

What professor has inspired you? Too many to name just one — Conner, Bent, Brown, Connelly, both Picketts, Gertz, Greer, Morel and others along the way.

Advice for prospective or first-year students? When you first get to campus, you will look around and see all these smart, successful people, and you will think, "Wow; everyone is so together. I better pretend I have it all together, too." Let me assure you: everyone does not have it together. We are all struggling inside with doubt, insecurity, and fear. Do not let your fear stop you from being vulnerable. You are not alone. The sooner you tell someone you are homesick or hurting or down, the sooner you will get to hear them say, "Me, too."

What do you wish you'd known before you came to campus? Throughout my life, I have been a lover of language and literature. I knew I wanted to be an English major before I set foot on Washington and Lee's campus, and though others have questioned the value of that degree, I never have. In fact, I believe that majoring in English has shaped the woman and the leader I have become.

A Foundation in
Ethics and Leadership

At Washington and Lee, leadership and integrity go way back--and hand in hand.

In Action People and Programs

"My wish is that in the near future and far beyond, our students will say that their lives were enriched by having had the opportunity during their time at W&L to grapple with challenging moral and ethical dilemmas as preparation for those that they will inevitably face throughout their lives, and that they develop courage of their convictions, but also the humility to question their own assumptions and learn from others." -- President Kenneth P. Ruscio

At Washington and Lee, leadership and integrity go way back-and hand in hand. Grounded in the timeless ideals of its legendary namesakes, the Washington and Lee community thrives on an ethic of honor and civility. An air of respect enables frank debate, resulting in a culture of open exchange and intellectual freedom. The revered, student-administered Honor System creates ideal conditions for an education based on integrity and trust. Exams are self-scheduled and unproctored, most buildings are open 24 hours a day, and students respect each other's personal belongings.

Washington and Lee also places high value on equipping its students to assume leadership roles in college and beyond--helping them carry forward our rich institutional legacy. Members of the faculty publish extensively on topics related to leadership and honor. Students interested in fostering their leadership skills will find countless opportunities on campus, in student organizations, student government and athletics, as well as programs and events like the Leadership Development Program and the Women's Leadership Summit. The first national college honor society to recognize leadership and extracurricular service, Omicron Delta Kappa, was founded and continues to thrive at W&L, and has spread to more than 300 other campuses.

To encourage a new generation of outstanding scholars, leaders and ethical citizens, the University recently created both the Johnson Program in Leadership and Integrity and the Mudd Center for Ethics. Funded by a $100 million gift from a W&L alumnus, the Johnson Program awards full tuition, room and board for about 10 percent of each class, endows two professorships, brings distinguished speakers to campus, and provides generous research stipends to students during the summer. The Mudd Center, established by a gift from the distinguished, award-winning journalist Roger Mudd, Class of 1950, provides a forum for dialogue, teaching and research about important ethical issues in public and professional life among students, faculty and staff. No wonder high numbers of Washington and Lee students rise to positions of prominence in their communities and around the world.

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At a Glance Facts and Figures

472 (roughly 75%) of the student body, participates in organized sports at the intramural, club or varsity level.
95% of the student body gets involved in the quadrennial Mock Convention.
1 rule in W&L's student-run, single-sanction honor system: no lying, cheating or stealing. Period.
W&L alumni include 31 governors, 26 senators, 67 congressmen and 4 supreme court justices.

Visit, Interview, Apply See Yourself Here

Ready to learn more? Come visit us in Lexington for a campus tour and class visit, or connect with one of our admissions counselors in a city near you. We look forward to meeting you.

Visit Tours and Interviews

Step One:

Schedule your visit with a campus tour and/or info session online.

Step Two:

Call our office to schedule your interview and/or class visit (for high school seniors only). We will coordinate your interview and class visit with your already scheduled visit. (540) 458-8710.

Can't make it to Lexington?

There are various ways in which you can still connect with Washington and Lee University and the Office of Admissions:

Apply Now

Apply Quick Guide

  • Early Decision is a binding commitment; enrollment is required if you are accepted.
    • ED-1: Nov. 1
    • ED-2: Jan. 1
  • Regular Decision is for students who want to maximize options.
    • Deadline: Jan. 1
  • Johnson Scholarship (additional essay required, instructions on the W&L Writing Supplement to the Common Application.)
    • Deadline: Dec. 1
Application Materials:

Financial Aid and Scholarships

We seek to ensure that the cost of attending W&L does not prevent outstanding students from choosing to enroll. A generous need-based aid program and merit-based scholarships can make that investment more manageable than you may think. Visit Financial Aid for more information.

The Johnson Scholarship Program awards over 40 full tuition, room and board scholarships annually. Read More

Admitted students who meet financial aid deadlines and are found to have need will have their full need met with grant funds and a work-study job -- no loans.

The W&L Promise guarantees free tuition to any undergraduate student admitted to Washington and Lee with a family income below $100,000. Learn More

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Washington and Lee University provides a liberal arts education that develops students' capacity to think freely, critically, and humanely and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and civility. Graduates will be prepared for life-long learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.