Messages to the Community

To: W&L Alumni, Parents and Friends
From: President Will Dudley
Date: May 6, 2020

Greetings from Lexington. It has been an exceptionally beautiful early spring, but campus remains eerily quiet without our students. Undergraduates began their virtual Spring Term courses last week, while our law students have just completed their final exams. Degree conferral events for the law and undergraduate classes of 2020 will take place online at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 8, and 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 28, respectively, and we invite you to join us in celebrating the achievements of our graduates.

Shortly after we closed our campus to in-person classes, I reflected on what I'd observed about the W&L community during that unprecedented week. I wrote to you of the empathy and kindness evident across campus, of the ingenuity on display as faculty and staff rose to the challenge of transitioning courses to virtual formats, and of the centuries-old rhythms of university life that all of us sorely miss. Since then, our seniors and 3Ls have had to come to terms with the reality of their final year at W&L cut short and their commencement exercises postponed. Our alumni were not able to return to Lexington this spring to celebrate milestone reunions with their classmates. Our newest Generals will not be able to celebrate their admission to W&L at regional chapter gatherings.

And yet, the spirit that defines Washington and Lee endures.

It's easy to forget, when everything has been disrupted, how much we were able to do and share with each other this term before we scattered. In January, I had the privilege of attending a reception honoring the life of the legendary professor Ed Spencer '53, who taught geology at W&L from 1957 to 2001. We celebrated Martin Luther King week with talks by Ruby Bridges and Natasha Merle. Campus Kitchen raised over $11,000 at its Annual Souper Bowl event, which supports needy children in Rockbridge County. Omicron Delta Kappa inducted 40 students and five honorary members into its ranks at our Founders Day Convocation, which included a talk on "Untold Stories of Founders, Leaders and Other Visionaries at W&L" by Lynn Rainville, W&L's director of institutional history. The Lenfest Center hosted the American Shakespeare Center's production of "The Grapes of Wrath," and The Mudd Center continued its year-long series on the Ethics of Technology, with talks by noted author Franklin Foer and W&L's own professors of cognitive and behavioral science, Karla Murdock and Wythe Whiting.

Mock Convention, one of our most celebrated traditions, was the highlight of February. More than 1,600 students took part in this year's event, which ended in a contested convention, with Senator Bernie Sanders ultimately chosen as the nominee. Political Chair John Harashinski '20 has written an insightful letter that outlines the challenges of making a prediction in such an unconventional political landscape and speaks eloquently to what makes Mock Convention one of the most significant collegiate traditions in the nation. We are immensely proud of our students and the successful event that they organized and executed from start to finish.

The Institute for Honor, which this year addressed the topic of Presidential Leadership in Times of War, with acclaimed presidential historian Michael Beschloss, kicked off the always-busy month of March. We were pleased to host 142 outstanding finalists for the Johnson Scholarship competition, and to welcome back alumnae working as financial journalists for a panel discussion on "Women Watching Wall Street." As students prepared for their sudden departure from campus, we were fortunate to be able to celebrate the opening nights of "Everybody," a new take on the 15th-century work "Everyman," and "Considering Matthew Shepard," a musical performed by the University Singers and featuring a discussion with Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthew's parents.

Our athletic teams completed a strong winter season, combining to post a 70-21 (.769) record and capturing conference championships in men's and women's swimming, men's indoor track and field, and wrestling. Men's basketball recorded its most wins since the 1988-89 season, while the women's team finished with a 15-3 record in the conference -- the best in the history of the program. Eight swimmers, three wrestlers and one pole vaulter qualified for the NCAA Championships but were unable to compete due to the suspension of championship play. Most of our spring teams had the opportunity to play a few times before the season was cut short, with men's and women's golf, women's lacrosse, and women's tennis finishing among the top 20 in final Division III polls. All of our athletes will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual awards ceremony on May 21.

Since leaving campus, our students and faculty have done their best not only to complete their courses, but also to sustain their extra- and co-curricular activities online. And they've done so in surprising and innovative ways. Students are conducting senior capstone presentations and poster sessions on Zoom. The studio art majors' thesis projects are showcased in a digital exhibition created by the Staniar Gallery interns. Student teams competing in the annual Business Plan Competition pitched their ideas online to a group of alumni judges and, for the first time, the public was invited to vote for the winner. The Repertory Dance Company collaborated on a virtual performance recorded in their homes and stitched together into a four-minute video, "Dancing Across Boundaries."

Others here at W&L are proving equally resourceful, doing their work and collaborating with the local community in new ways. Our museums are mounting virtual exhibitions that make the collections available for remote learning. Employees are supporting local food pantries and hunger relief programs and creating protective face shields for healthcare workers on 3D printers in the IQ Center.

The incoming class of 2024 is one of the strongest in W&L history. The 472 committed students hail from 40 U.S. states and 19 countries. Their median SAT score of 1430 and ACT score of 33 are high-water marks for the university. Twenty percent identify as domestic students of color; 9 percent are children of alumni; 8 percent are first-generation-to-college; and 6 percent are international. The Office of Admissions achieved this extraordinary result by means of dedicated personal communication, conducted virtually, with admitted students. Our strong corps of Alumni Admissions Program volunteers also made a big difference by sharing their own insights and enthusiasm for W&L with the members of the Class of 2024. Welcoming this newest crop of Generals to campus will be a huge highlight for all of us.

We are planning to resume on-campus instruction this Fall Term. The heart of Washington and Lee is a residential education in a tight-knit community, and we are eager to have our students back on campus as soon as possible. To do so safely, we will need to operate our dormitories, dining halls, and classrooms in accordance with any social distancing guidelines that remain in force. And we must recognize and prepare for the possibility of governmental and medical guidance that could prevent us from returning to campus instruction on our normal schedule. I have appointed a Contingency Planning Task Force to make recommendations about the various scenarios we might face. Our two primary commitments will be maintaining educational quality for our students and preserving continuity of employment for our faculty and staff.

This is a difficult period for all of us, but our students are adaptable, and the liberal arts education they receive at W&L gives them the skills they need to succeed in trying and unpredictable circumstances. The many stories of how our alumni are rising to the challenge of these times amply demonstrate that W&L excels at preparing our graduates for lives of consequence. I'm particularly grateful for your continued support of Washington and Lee as we, in turn, support our students, faculty and staff. The response to this pandemic from every corner of our community is both humbling and heartwarming. I'm proud to be a part of it and look forward to the time when we can thank you in person.