An Intergenerational Bond W&L Alumni Magazine Fall 2015

In his classic novel, "The Leopard," Giuseppe Lamberdusa, tells of a time in the late 1800s in Italy when a monarchy was giving way to a republican, egalitarian order. It was not easy. There's a scene where a young man confronts his beloved uncle, who is trying desperately to make sense of all that is happening around him. "Uncle, " the young man calmly explains, "if you want things to remain the same, there will have to be some changes."

It is tempting to describe Honor Our Past, Build Our Future: The Campaign for Washington and Lee as transformational. How could a $542.5 million campaign be anything but transformational? But our story is more complicated. During a time when most colleges and universities have compromised or even abandoned their missions, when the economic headwinds have forced others to alter their course, we have strengthened and enhanced our deeply held values.

This has been a campaign of affirmation - of change, to be sure, but the kind of change that preserves what has made us so strong. What served us throughout our history will serve us well in the future.

As I think of this campaign, I am reminded of the intergenerational bond that defines Washington and Lee. Our inheritance from the past becomes our obligation to the future. With this campaign we have helped fulfill that obligation.

I am reminded as well of my conversation many years ago with a first-generation student from Hawaii who had been out early that morning for a run. She described her wonder at seeing the Colonnade in the early morning Shenandoah Valley fog and mist. She realized at that moment with a mixture of awe and gratitude how fortunate she was to be here at this time in her life and wondered what combination of luck and circumstance and fate had made it possible.

Each of us can recall similar moment when we took our measure of the place and found it nearly perfect in every way. The Colonnade was perfectly framed by the trees during a late afternoon winter sunset; or a faculty member had just opened our eyes to a new set of ideas; or a friend had just helped us through a rough patch, and we came to understand just what friendship truly means. And at that moment we counted ourselves fortunate to belong to the Washington and Lee community, and our affection for this place was implanted forever.

Yet, we also understand the logically contradictory truth that defines this university. As perfect as it may have been at that moment in time, it gets better with each with each passing day, each passing year, each new generation of students. If there is one message of our historic campaign, it is that. In order for things to remain the same, in order to preserve the timeless values of Washington and Lee, we must always make it better. If we want things to remain the same, there will have to be some changes.