Feature Stories Campus Events

A Politico to Watch

Congratulations to Justine Sessions, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2005. National Journal, an online publication that covers the political scene in Washington D.C., has named her to its list of “Hill People” to watch. Justine is the majority communications director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Justine Sessions ’05

As she tells National Journal, life in the nation’s capitol first intrigued her when she was a W&L student, studying in Washington on her way to a B.A. in politics. After graduation, she spent a few years working for former Sen. Christopher Dodd, D.-Conn, as his deputy press secretary and press secretary. At the time, he was chairing the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, running for president and dealing with legislation to stop the impending financial crisis.

She remembers one particular moment during that turbulent time.  “I’m standing outside with what felt like, and probably was, the entire press corps,” she told National Journal. “You feel the power of the moment, and you realize what your boss and others are discussing has a profound impact on the future of the country.”

After her term with Dodd, Justine directed communications for the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of Ned Lamont in Connecticut, her home state. She started her current post last September.


Duffee '83 in Sudan

If you are in Lexington today (Wednesday, June 29), you can hear Larry Duffee, a 1983 graduate of Washington and Lee, give a presentation about Sudan.

Larry, who lives in Fredericksburg, Va., sold his food-supply business to become an Episcopal missionary. He has been stationed at the headquarters of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, in Juba, since May of last year. He’s backed by the Diocese of Virginia and the church’s missionary program. He works to build peace, to help develop the finances of the Sudanese church and to maintain the church’s international partnerships. Larry plans to be in Sudan on July 9, when it becomes two countries.

And he’s been blogging about his experiences. Read his latest entry, “The Night Train to Mombasa,” at Duffman in Africa. “When I turned out the light around 10pm to go to bed the outside world became alive thanks to the three-quarters full moon which shone brightly upon the Kenyan landscape,” he writes of his journey. “I dropped the screen covering the window and pressed my face to the edge of the darkness, standing a full hour watching Kenya pass by.”

Larry’s talk, which is open to the public, takes place at noon today in the parish hall of the R.E. Lee Memorial Church. Please call the church beforehand at (540) 463-4981 so they’ll have enough chairs. You can bring your lunch, and the church will provide iced tea, coffee and dessert.


Alumna's First Novel Draws Raves

Rebecca Makkai ’99

Sharp-eyed readers of the July issue of  “O: The Oprah Magazine” may notice a familiar name in the magazine’s summer reading list: Rebecca Makkai. Don’t recognize her? By the end of the summer, you probably will, as this 1999 graduate of Washington and Lee University is poised to make a big name for herself with her first novel, “The Borrower” (Viking Press), out this month.
It’s the story of a children’s librarian named Lucy Hull and her favorite reader, Ian Drake, age 10, who run away together. Rebecca’s book has drawn praise from “Publisher’s Weekly” (“fast-paced, suspenseful, and thoroughly enjoyable”), “Good Housekeeping” (“delightfully quirky”), “Booklist” (“splendid first novel”) and The New York Times (“surprisingly moving”), among other publications.

Rebecca, a Montessori school teacher who lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two daughters, has contributed short stories to such literary journals as our own “Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review” (which she calls one of “a few that are near and dear to my heart”) and to such compilations as The Best American Short Stories.

“Her first story, at the age of three, was printed on the side of a cardboard box and told from the viewpoint of her stuffed Smurf doll,” as she writes in her witty website. The site also contains news of her summer book tour, a YouTube video of Rebecca giving book recommendations to young readers, and other material well worth a click.

And now, here she is, with her first novel available in print, audio and e-books. There’ll be no going back to the side of the cardboard box for Rebecca Makkai.


Art That's All in the Family

While she was a student, Julia Pleasants, of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2008, belonged to the dance club and helped found the W&L Repertory Dance Company. An English major, she recently learned the business side of the dance world when she did a press and marketing internship with the famed Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, in Massachusetts. That experience is coming in handy this summer, as Julia is helping her father, the large-scale installation artist Craig Pleasants, with publicity for his current project: a small, inexpensive, eco-friendly house built from a kit. It’s called the Octagonal Living Unit, OLU for short. “I have been doing the majority of the marketing for the OLU,” she reports.

Julia has been living with one form or another of the OLU for quite a while. “There was actually a half-scale version of the kit house assembled in my parents’ living room for a short period of time,” Julia tells us, “and I helped with the de-construction of that one, which took all of two hours. I’m sure that if he starts to manufacture a lot of these, I will be involved in the construction
somehow. My mom, my two sisters and I have been helping to assemble and transport his artwork for as long as I can remember.” The Pleasantses live in Amherst, Va.

You can watch a video and learn more about the OLU on the Kickstarter website. Julia makes an appearance at the 1:00 mark; she’s reading inside a sculpture that lived in their backyard for a time. “I am also the person who pointed the camera at our dog, Scout, at the very end,” she says. If you’re so inclined, you can also help underwrite the OLU prototype.

When she’s not doing parental p.r., Julia works at the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, N.C. She also volunteers at the Community Arts Center there and teaches dance.

Visitors to W&L’s Staniar Gallery next spring will be able to learn even more about her father’s pursuits. From April 23 to May 25, 2012, Craig Pleasants will present an exhibition called “Volume,” comprising works based on what he calls “aesthetics of necessity.” The show will be his second at W&L; the first was in October 1998 in duPont Hall.


A Journalist's Homecoming

Sometimes you have to leave a place–or a job–to discover that’s where you are meant to be. At least that’s what journalist Kat Greene, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2008, recently discovered.

Kat always wanted to be a reporter. As she wrote last fall on her Facebook page, which the Talking Biz News website quoted, “When I was very young and playing house, I would go off to ‘work,’ where I typed away at a broken old typewriter. Writing stories came through me, as though I didn’t do it intentionally. I felt called to it.” It’s no surprise that at W&L, she majored in journalism and mass communications.

After graduation, she landed posts at Dow Jones Newswires, Institutional Investor and the (Phoenix) Arizona Republic. Writing about business news for the Phoenix paper, however, she found herself dissatisfied. What had once been a dream field where she could gain the experience to be a managing editor now seemed to have changed—and not for the better—along with the entire news business. And so she left.

“Now I was doing the one thing no one would have predicted,” she wrote, “and I felt liberated.”

Kat returned home, to the Atlanta area. And now she has a new job that seems familiar—as the banking and finance reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “I decided that I wasn’t looking for a job or a career path—I was looking for a home,” she told Talking Biz News. “I hope that’s what I’ve found here, back in my literal hometown, but also at this close-knit company.”


Alum Takes the Pulpit at Historic Church

A historic Presbyterian church in Germantown, Tenn., has a new pastor, and he’s a W&L alumnus. The Rev. William Gray Jones, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1992, now leads the 800-plus members of Germantown Presbyterian Church, which dates to 1838. Its Evans Chapel, built in 1851, is Germantown’s oldest public building.

“It was clear he was special,” said a member of the church’s nominating committee in a press release about Will’s appointment. “He became the standard upon which we compared all the other candidates.”

Will, who was born and grew up in Memphis, has a B.A. in history from W&L. He earned his M. Div. from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1996 and his Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2006. He’s been the youth director at Idlewild Presbyterian Church, in Memphis, and at Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, in Atlanta.

In addition to studying in Scotland, he served as associate pastor of a church there, St. Michael’s Parish Church, in Linlithgow. Most recently, Will was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Brownsville, Tenn.

Will is a teacher as well, with current stints as an adjunct professor in the Honors Program at the University of Memphis and in the department of philosophy and religion at the University of Mississippi.

Will and his wife, Susan, have three children: Lelia, Mary and Grace.


Next Stop, Medical School

Good luck to Allison Lemon, a brand-new graduate of Washington and Lee. This week, she is competing in the famed Roanoke Valley Horse Show, but it may be a long time before the former captain of W&L’s riding team sees the inside of a show ring again.

As the Roanoke Times explains, Allison has been riding since she was 6 years old, and competing since the age of 12. At the end of this summer, however, the biochemistry major is headed to Wake University School of Medicine, in North Carolina. Time for riding will be scarce, and so she’s selling her beloved horse, Wally, which she has had for seven years, and preparing for the next phase of her education.

Allison rides show hunters, and in Roanoke, she is competing on both Wally and on Rittani, a horse that belongs to a Bedford County trainer. She’s versatile in part because of her experience in intercollegiate riding.

There, riders have to compete on horses that belong to the host college, with no time to get used to the mounts before heading into the class. “Allison was a great college rider,” W&L riding coach Gordon Reistrup told the Roanoke Times, “because she has an innate feel for how to assess a horse.”

Reistrup also sang Lemon’s praises out of the saddle. “She is the nicest girl, always friendly, always pleasant, always a kind word for everybody else, not just on our team but other teams as well.”

Allison was a member of the W&L riding team for all four years and served as captain for two years. She was an ODAC scholar-athlete each year of her college career. She is the daughter of one alumnus (Stephen Lemon, Class of 1984, a Roanoke lawyer) and granddaughter of another (William Lemon, Class of 1955 undergraduate and 1959 law, also a Roanoke lawyer and a former member of W&L’s Board of Trustees).

Here’s hoping that the future Dr. Lemon and her horses win plenty of ribbons this week.


NY Times Highlights Alum's Business

A new concept for legal assistance, LawyerUp, promises to provide legal assistance within 15 minutes when urgent legal help is required. A recent story in the New York Times (registration required) described the new service, which was co-founded by Alex Ruskell, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1994.

Billed as “America’s First Urgent Legal Assistance Service,” LawyerUp operates in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, with criminal lawyers who have agreed to take late-night calls. College students represent one of the primary target audiences for LawyerUp, which has a set of statistics on its website noting that “people aged 16-20 are more than twice as likely to be arrested than be a driver involved in a car accident.”

An English major at W&L, Alex went on to earn degrees in fiction writing (M.F.A.) from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, in English (A.L.M.) from Harvard University and in law (J.D.) from the University of Texas at Austin. He’s been associate director of academic support at Roger Williams School of Law since 2007. He previously worked at the Southern New England School of Law and the Legal Writing Center at the University of Iowa School of Law, and as a litigator in Boston.

In his role at Roger Williams, Alex has taught courses on bar exam preparation, water law, contractual drafting, law and literature, and art law.  For 10 years, he has edited Thomson West’s national law bulletins in Search and Seizure, Narcotics, Arrest and Investigative Stops, and Thomson West’s law bulletins focused on California and New York law. You can read his blog about everything from relaxation techniques to study tips here on the RWU site.


Maryland Bar Honors W&L Alum Hamp Tisdale '74L

During its annual meeting in Ocean City, Md., earlier this month, the Maryland State Bar Association honored Judge John H. (Hamp) Tisdale, of Washington and Lee’s Law School Class of 1974, with the 2011 Anselm Sodaro Award for Judicial Civility.

Hamp has been associate judge of the Frederick (Md.) County Circuit Court, 6th Judicial Circuit, since January 1995. He announced earlier this year that he would be retiring this month.

The Sodaro Award, named for a former judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City Circuit Court, is given to a Maryland judge “whose courtroom demeanor best exemplifies the high ideals of civility and courtesy practiced by the late Judge Anselm Sodaro.”

Hamp was praised for “his deep regard for those appearing before him by treating all with courtesy, dignity and respect. He has been described as ‘the epitome of judicial temperament, . . . a gentleman and a scholar, with apparently unlimited patience and a genuine civility toward jurors, litigants, witnesses and … attorneys.'”

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Hamp entered the W&L Law School after four years of active duty in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. He had a general practice in Frederick, Md., before being named to the circuit court. Involved in a variety of committees with the state board, Hamp will finish a term as chair of the Judicial Ethics Committee of the Maryland Judicial Conference.


Generals Ranked

With nine starters back on offense and nine on defense from the team that won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference last fall, Washington and Lee’s football team is not going to sneak up on any opponents this fall. And now the Generals have been ranked nationally by The Sporting News in its 2011 College Football Preview issue.

W&L is No. 19 on the Sporting News Preseason Division III Top 25 and the only ODAC team in the rankings. Wisconsin-Whitewater, which won the national Division III championship last year, is ranked No. 1.

What’s more, W&L junior defensive back Jake Pelton, from Charlottesville, Va., has been named to the preseason All-America team by The Sporting News. Jake was named first team All-ODAC, first team All-State and second team All-South Region. He led the conference with six interceptions and also had 82 tackles.

The Generals will open the season on Sept. 3, when they host Franklin & Marshall on Wilson Field.