W&L 2012 Graduates Win Fellowships
Two members of Washington and Lee University’s 2012 graduating class, Tyler Grant of Suwanee, Ga., and Ryan Hartman of Yorktown, Va., have received grants for postgraduate study from the prestigious Fulbright Program. Grant received an English teaching assistantship in Taiwan, a province of China (hereinafter referred to as “Taiwan”), and Hartman received a research grant in Kazakhstan.
Shiri Yidlin ’12 of Irvine, Calif., received a U.S. teaching assistantship to Austria.
Grant said he chose Taiwan to further his studies of East Asian language and literature, specifically Chinese. He went on to say that after traveling to China last summer, “I wanted to gain a broader perspective of regional issues, a large part of which deals with Taiwan. Choosing Taiwan also allows me to continue my study of Chinese as well as work with young people at local schools. I also hope to continue my politics studies through research.”
“I am delighted that Tyler has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Taiwan,” said Janet Ikeda, associate professor of Japanese and Fulbright Program advisor. “The competition for fellowships has grown fierce, with close to 10,000 applicants vying for 1,700 Fulbright grants this past year. He actually began preparing for his application more than a year in advance. He was awarded a Johnson Opportunity grant, which allowed him to teach in China the summer before his senior year on the Harvard World Teach program.
“Tyler’s approach to the fellowship process was systematic, strategic and focused. His well-crafted essays demonstrated knowledge of the language and culture, a love of teaching and a desire to learn even more.”
While at W&L, Grant was a resident adviser, a senior justice on the Student Judicial Council and captain of the varsity track and field team. He was also a member of the College Republicans and wrote for the Political Review. After teaching in Taiwan Grant hopes to attend law school.
“I’m also very thankful to Prof. Ikeda for her kindness, continued support and tremendous optimism throughout this process. She has been one of my favorite professors at W&L-certainly someone I admire,” said Grant.
Hartman said, “It is a tremendous honor for me to be an ambassador of the United States and of W&L in a country that many people know nothing about. I will be researching natural resource development since the collapse of the Soviet Union. I will be based in Almaty, but hope to travel throughout the country.”
Hartman continued, “I chose to apply to Kazakhstan because it is place where I can combine my interests. It is a Russian-speaking country with a burgeoning economy that is fed primarily by natural resource development. I am excited by the idea that natural resources can be a mechanism for elevating a population into prosperity, and want to explore what Kazakhstan has done to make it successful so far. I think of much of central Asia, including Kazakhstan, as a bit of a last frontier. I can’t wait to explore and learn about this place and its people–I think it will continue to become more and more important on the global stage.”
Hartman double majored in Russian area studies and geology. He was the head resident assistant for first-year students, was captain of the men’s varsity swimming and diving team, a member of the University Chamber Singers, a member of the Student Affairs Committee, a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and a member of the Kompost Krew. He is applying to Navy Officer Candidate School, which he hopes to attend after returning to the U.S.
“On a Fulbright grant, Ryan will be taking his research topic across the globe,” said Ikeda. “Ryan wrote in his essay that he chose Kazakhstan because he could draw parallels between America’s western expansion and the mining operations in that country. It is also a place where he can combine his two academic passions of Russian and geology. His W&L experiences in Argentina and the Appalachian Mountains have helped prepare him for field work in Kazakhstan.”
Yadlin said of her award, “I’m thrilled to have the chance to go to Austria next year. I was able to develop really strong relationships with the teaching assistants who came to W&L to work in the German Department, and I love the idea of having that same kind of impact on Austrian secondary school students.
“I chose to apply for the program in Austria because I wanted the chance to experience a different part of the German-speaking world after my spring term in Bonn in 2010,” Yadlin continued. “Because of the W&L German curriculum, I feel like I have a relatively good grasp of German culture, but I cannot say the same for Austrian culture. I have heard and read wonderful things about the country and its people, so I am really excited to see and experience it all for myself.”
At W&L, Yadlin was a Bonner Leader and worked with W&L Campus Kitchens (CKWL) and Volunteer Venture. She also sang in General Admission, served as a leader in Generals Christian Fellowship, gave campus tours and was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority. Her long-term interests include social work with the homeless or public policy.
“I am very proud to have three students from this year’s graduating class winning awards that will take them abroad to represent Washington and Lee University and the U.S.,” said President Ken Ruscio. “W&L students are blazing paths to unique areas of the world. Ever mindful of our mission statement, we will continue to prepare students for ‘engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.’”
Sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program.
Fast (and Weird) Start for One W&L Intern
As understatements go, Michael McGuire’s description of his first day at his summer internship is right up there: “It wasn’t what I was expecting.”
Come this fall, Michael will be a Washington and Lee University senior. He’s majoring in journalism and Spanish and this year won the Todd Smith Fellowship, which supports an internship in Miami, Fla., with El Nuevo Herald, one of the country’s premier Spanish-language newspapers.
So he touched down in Miami this week, reported for duty at El Nuevo Herald and was paired with another reporter to get the latest information on Miami’s celebrated cannibal story — the bizarre case in which one naked man was shot and killed by police as he attacked another naked man and began eating his face.
Michael had only just read about the incident while waiting in the lobby to go on the assignment.
Michael e-mailed that his efforts were “fruitless for a while, waiting outside of a bank to interview a man who rode by the attack on his bicycle and hoping to find some of the victim’s family waiting in the lobby of the hospital trauma center. We found out all of the court documents we wanted to read to get more information on the attacker weren’t available at the courthouse downtown. It wasn’t until a press conference at 2:30 p.m. that we started to get little pieces for a story. Someone showed us leaked photos of the faceless homeless man, and another reporter told us who she thought the victim was. The police hadn’t confirmed anything.”
Back in the newsroom, Michael did some background research on a 1985 story by legendary Miami crime writer Edna Buchanan, when a naked man threw the severed head of his girlfriend to a police officer who approached him on the street.
“We wrote and rewrote the story, adjusting for every new bit of information we dug up or were given on the phone,” wrote Michael. “We ordered pizza. We didn’t leave until about 10:30 p.m.”
The next morning, Michael woke up to find his byline on the story on A1. (Note: It’s in Spanish.) “It’s a story gaining international attention, and though this wasn’t ‘breaking news,’ it was cool to be a reporter keeping people updated on the situation. Spanish speakers from all over the world turn to El Nuevo Herald for U.S. news. I’d say it was worth it.”
While Michael and his colleague were waiting for the press conference to start, he was chatting with a veteran TV reporter who told him, “You might as well quit now. This story is probably the craziest you’ll ever see.”
Said Michael: “I hope so. But I’m not quitting. I’ve got a lot to learn.”
W&L Research in Yellowstone Makes Headlines
Two recent stories in the Billings (Mont.) Gazette have focused on research conducted by Washington and Lee biology professor Bill Hamilton and W&L students in several of his Spring Term courses.
The stories, “Researchers try to revitalize soil in Gardiner Basin area” and “Yellowstone Park restoration work progressing,” report on an article that Bill and his colleague, Eric Hellquist, of State University New York-Oswego, have published in the 2012 issue of the journal Yellowstone Science.
They have focused their research on Gardiner Basin, in the upper northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. As Bill has explained, the area is a prime winter range for bison, elk and pronghorn antelope. But the grasslands have been overgrown by mustard, a nonnative plant that inhibits the growth of native grasses. As those grasses have been depleted, the animals, especially bison, wander beyond the protection of Yellowstone’s borders in search of new pastures.
Inside three plots, fenced to keep wildlife out, the mustard has been eliminated with a herbicide. The areas are replanted with barley to stabilize the soil, and then native species are planted. In the past two years, according to the results of the study, soil organic matter increased by 40 percent inside the fence compared with soil outside the fence.
Bill took his first trip in 2005, and his students have been going to back to continue the work. You can read about the work on the class blog and its Facebook page, both of which also feature photographs and videos from the past four years.
W&L's Jasmin Darznik in Sunday's New York Times
It’s been a banner month for Jasmin Darznik, assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee.
Just after her memoir, “The Good Daughter,” was nominated for two prestigious awards, Jasmin published a piece, “No Place Is Home,” in Sunday’s New York Times. She writes about her two-year exile from the United States after a run-in with the American Consulate when she was 13.
“It’s a story I’ve wanted to tell for years, but I haven’t found the words or the way until now,” Jasmin said of the essay.
Jasmin and her family left Iran when she was five and settled in California. She and her mother had visited Iranian relatives in Germany one summer when Jasmin, filling out the renewal form for her mother’s business visa, put “America” on the line asking for their home. Because the officials viewed that as a statement of intent to stay in the U.S. permanently, they were denied the visa and were forced to remain in Germany until her father could hire an attorney for a successful appeal.
Jasmin describes her dilemma in this passage from the essay:
By that time, I had spent several years distancing myself from the country then known as “Eyeran.” I had seen enough footage of the hostage crisis. I had been called a “smelly A-rab” at school, watched my mother get stared down in grocery shops on account of her accent and witnessed the sharp looks my veiled grandmother drew in the streets. I had quickly learned not to be Iranian in ways that showed. I plucked my eyebrows, bleached my hair with Sun-In and hitched up my skirts. My accent was pure Valley girl, heavy on the “likes.” By summer’s end, I was desperate to get back to California. A visa was the only thing standing between me and the only country I cared to claim.
As a 2011-2012 fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in Charlottesville, Jasmin has been working on a novel set in 1960s Iran, titled “LUSTRE: A Nonfiction Novel of Iran.”
W&L Alum Honored by Choate Rosemary Hall
Dr. Daniel J. Carucci, of the Class of 1980, was honored this month with an Alumni Award from Choate Rosemary Hall, from which he graduated in 1976.
Dan is president of Washington-based Global Health Consulting Inc., which works with corporations, international non-governmental organizations, governments, foundations and individual philanthropists “to improve the effectiveness of investments in global health.” He has previously served as vice president for global health at the United Nations Foundation and as director of the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.
After W&L, Dan received his medical degree from the University of Virginia and then earned a master’s and a Ph.D. from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He spent 20 years of active service as a U.S. Navy physician and research scientist, including a stint as director of the U.S. Navy Malaria Vaccine Program.
In his acceptance remarks, Dan told the gathering: “For me it’s not, and it’s never been, about what you accomplish, but it’s about whose lives you’ve bettered. It’s about the opportunities you give others to shine. It’s about the teams you’ve brought together to solve difficult problems. And it’s about tackling head-on difficult challenges that will result not just in incremental change but will result in transformational change.”
Congratulations to Daniel.
Washington and Lee Receives $1 Million in Second Hughes Grant
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has selected Washington and Lee University as one of 47 small colleges and universities in the country to share in grants totaling more than $50 million.
According to the institute, the grants “enable the schools to work together to create more engaging science classes, bring real-world research experience to students, and increase the diversity of students who study science.”
W&L will receive $1 million to support continued work in two primary areas:
- Increasing apprentice-based student-faculty research opportunities for all science and mathematics majors
- Extending efforts to prepare all undergraduates to become scientifically curious and literate leaders in society, regardless of career emphasis.
Last April, HHMI invited 215 institutions to apply for the competition and received 182 proposals, from which it made 43 awards to the 47 different schools, based on the recommendation of a panel of 23 leading scientists.
This is the second major award that Washington and Lee has received from HHMI. In 2008, the University won a $1.3 million grant.
“Winning a second HHMI award in four years provides compelling evidence that W&L is providing innovative and effective instruction in the sciences and mathematics and that our plans for the improvement of that instruction merit foundation support and national recognition,” said Washington and Lee President Kenneth P. Ruscio.
Helen I’Anson, professor of biology and head of the Biology Department, has directed the HHMI program. She said that the new grant will allow the University to continue its strategy of developing “an interdisciplinary, collaborative and quantitative program of integrated research and teaching that will be available to non-majors as well as majors.”
A centerpiece of the plan will be the establishment of the Integrative and Quantitative Science Center as part of Telford Science Library.
“We are folding the IQ Center into a more modern definition of a library,” I’Anson said. “This space will be devoted to data acquisition, data storage, computation, visual imaging and collecting experimental data. It will be rich with technology and instruments for both teaching and research.”
I’Anson described the IQ Center as a place that will tie “powerful analytical and imaging equipment to traditional teaching, and will make the traditional teaching more student centered.”
I’Anson said that a substantial amount of the funding for the center will come from the University, while the HHMI grant will fund some of the construction as well as the initiatives.
In making the grants to the 47 small colleges and universities, Sean B. Carroll, vice president of science education at HHMI, said, “HHMI is investing in these schools because they have shown they are superb incubators of new ideas and models that might be replicated by other institutions to improve how science is taught in college.”
Since 1988, HHMI has awarded more than $870 million to 274 colleges and universities to support science education. HHMI support has enabled nearly 85,000 students nationwide to work in research labs and has developed programs that have helped 100,000 K-12 teachers learn how to teach science more effectively.
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
Washington and Lee Graduates 396 Students in Class of 2012
As the 396 members of Washington and Lee University’s Class of 2012 received their diplomas on the University’s historic Front Campus Thursday, they were reminded to take strength from what the W&L community had taught them.
In his remarks to the graduates, Washington and Lee President Kenneth P. Ruscio emphasized the special nature of the W&L community, which is governed by a longstanding honor system and imbued with a sense of civility and a spirit of cooperation.
“We strive to create a community with certain patterns of interactions among the individuals who comprise it — patterns that teach us what we owe to each other; and patterns that influence the way you live your lives when you leave here,” Ruscio said.
Civility, he added, is a virtue that must be cultivated through the University’s time-honored “speaking tradition,” which calls for members of the community to greet one another — and strangers — on campus.
• Audio and complete text of President Ruscio’s remarks
“Telling the truth is so much easier when there is a presumption that everyone else is telling the truth,” Ruscio said. “We believe that a community based on trust is simply better than one based on self-interest. You are about to leave a community that takes such matters seriously and enter a society that does not. You can either surrender to the headwinds you will face, or you can, like many alumni before you, take strength from what this community has taught you.
“I’m betting the headwinds will be no match for the moral disposition you acquired just by being here and associating with some of the finest people you will ever know.”
Ruscio also paid tribute to beloved members of the W&L community who died within the past year. He reminded the graduates of the talk they heard last September at convocation from Pamela H. Simpson, the Ernest Williams II Professor of Art History. Despite a terminal illness, she continued to teach almost until her death in October. He also told them about Severn Duvall, the Henry S. Fox Jr. Professor of English Emeritus, who died in March, and quoted from a eulogy for Duvall that a former student delivered at his memorial.
“It was my admiration for all of you,” he told the students, “that brought to mind my admiration of people like Pam and Severn and the many others following in their footsteps,” indicating the current faculty members in the audience.
In addition to developing their minds, Ruscio said, he hoped the graduates have developed their hearts: “I hope you have learned the importance of being in relationships with people who care about you; and that you retain throughout your lives the humility to learn from them.”
Speaking on behalf of his classmates, Scott McClintock, president of the student body, said that graduating from W&L is different from graduating from most other schools. “Rather than joining hundreds of thousands of living alumni, we join only a few thousand,” he said. “Yet these few thousand are proud. They know what it is to be a W&L student, and they live successful lives across the country. . . . The great thing about Washington and Lee is that it works for us. We are a small-knit group that — though not based out of a central area or region — sticks together behind a place.”
• Audio and text of Scott McClintock’s remarks
This year’s graduating class, which is the 25th coeducational class to graduate from W&L, was evenly split between men and women representing 39 states, plus the District of Columbia and 12 countries.
In addition to the bachelor’s degrees, the University awarded honorary degrees to James C. Rees IV, president and chief executive officer of historic Mount Vernon, and Dr. Mervyn F. Silverman, one of the nation’s leading authorities on AIDS and a 1960 graduate of W&L.
Ruscio also recognized five retiring members of the University’s faculty, who have a combined total of 135 years of service to W&L: Denis Brion, professor of law; Michael J. Evans, the Lillian and Rupert Radford Professor of Mathematics; Frank Miriello, head football coach; Gordon Spice, the Edwin A. Morris Endowed Professor of Music and head of the Department of Music; and Cecile West-Settle, professor of Spanish.
Brooke Sutherland, a journalism and French major from Lawrence, Kan., was the valedictorian. Her cumulative grade-point average was 4.043.
One of those receiving his diploma, Grant Kunkowski, began his undergraduate career at W&L in 1978 but left after his sophomore year to pursue an acting career. Known by his stage name of Grant Aleksander, he played the role of Phillip Spaulding on the daytime drama “The Guiding Light” for many years. He returned to campus in 2011 to complete his degree in theater.
Other top awards:
• Clarke Morrison, of Atlanta, and Shiri Yadlin, of Irvine, Calif., won the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, presented to a male and female graduate on a vote of the faculty. The award honors individuals “who excel in high ideals of living, in spiritual qualities, and in generous and disinterested service to others.” Morrison majored in English and geology, while Yadlin was a double major in global politics and religion.
• Morrison also won the Frank J. Gilliam Award, which is presented by the Executive Committee of the Student Body to that student who has made the most valuable contribution to student affairs in one or more fields.
• Chris Washnock, of Greer, S.C., won the Edward Lee Pinney Prize, awarded by the Student Affairs Committee to an undergraduate who demonstrates “extraordinary commitment to personal scholarship and to the nurturing of intellectual life at Washington and Lee.” Washnock was a double major in religion and Spanish.
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
W&L President Ruscio's 2012 Commencement Address
Kenneth P. Ruscio
Washington and Lee University
May 24, 2012
We began the academic year at our Opening Convocation with a moving address by Professor Pam Simpson. Her friends, colleagues and many of her students knew at the time—because she had so courageously told us—that the cancer she was fighting was treatable but not curable; and even if we could not bring ourselves to admit it to each other, we understood this would be one of our last memories of a Washington and Lee legend.
In her address the art historian told us about the architecture of our campus buildings, especially those on the colonnade, how they came to be, and the battles over their preservation. Ever the teacher, Pam concluded by taking us into the deeper meaning of her story. “What,” she asked, “can we learn from all this?”
One lesson (she said) is that what we so value today came together over a period of several hundred years. Each generation built on the past. What resulted was not only a collection of historic, distinguished buildings (which we are now working hard to restore); we also ended up with a symbol. This is who we are. When we think of our most deeply held values— academic excellence, collegiality, civility, and most of all, honor, all of them are embodied here…White columns, worn steps, halls hallowed by time, and the strength embodied within them.
Just a few months later, another Washington and Lee legend also passed away. Severn Duvall had retired several years ago. He was not a familiar figure to this graduating class; but he was very familiar to those of us from an earlier time. Otherwise known as “dog Duvall,” either because of his ever-present Irish setter companion or because he dispensed the grade of D so freely in his English Literature classes, Severn was by any measure a presence. At his memorial service, which was a celebration more than a mournful occasion, a former student, Ben Hale, offered this tribute.
My memories of Severn the teacher are indistinguishable from my memories of Severn the man and Severn the friend. Our friendship spanned thirty years, and he never stopped teaching me. He taught me how to compost, how to cook rice, how to fix Swiss chard, and how to read a poem. He taught me to like pot cheese and liver and vodka on the rocks and Irish poetry. He taught me that Song of Myself is as holy a text as any book of the Bible, that there’s no reason to tolerate self-serving arguments or safe thinking or lazy writing. He taught me the difference between a wood cut and an engraving and an etching and made me think—again and again—about how I looked at pictures of every kind. He taught me the difference between a good poem and a poem that just feels good. Some of this happened in the seminar room, but much of it happened around his kitchen table or down in his cluttered study during commercials in the news (when talking was allowed).
But mostly Severn taught me what kind of man I ought to try to be. He could have taught me how to use a fish fork and a finger bowl—because he was very comfortable in polite society—but he taught me, more importantly, that being a gentleman has nothing to do with those things and everything to do with being gracious, even when—especially when—we have reason not to be. And he taught me that being gracious was about being fair and generous—not about mincing words or faking smiles.
I don’t exactly know why Pam and Severn came to mind as I thought about what to say to you as you leave Washington and Lee, but I suspect it had something to do with the way I feel about this class. It is customary at a time like this for someone like me to tell you that you are special, among the best to have ever walked these halls, and that by comparison those of us who preceded you were severely deficient and not nearly as good looking; and that despite all the turmoil in the world I am greatly reassured knowing that the future is in your hands.
In this case, though, I truly mean it. Except for the good-looking part.
Download a pdf version of the remarks
I think of Woodie’s leadership of the IFC, Mackenzie’s guidance of Panhellenic, Scott’s oversight of the honor system, Matt’s direction of the Student Judicial Council (so precarious apparently that he required the 24 hour security of a guard dog named Lacrosse), Amber’s thoughtful comments at a Martin Luther King Day celebration, Chris and Brian capping off their swim careers with a NCAA post-graduate fellowship, Kat, Emily and Paige telling me about their experiences as student-athletes, the senior recitals in Wilson and Lenfest halls, Killeen’s Spanish journalism, Henri’s cabin in the woods, the look on Stephen’s face when he told us he had been chosen for the Teach for America program, Natalie’s comeback, the five sophomore friends of Kim and me who in the blink of an eye became the five senior friends and momentarily will become our five alumni friends, Trish, Zack, and Tucker and the entire Mock Con team—and the elephant that never was, Charlie and the spread offense, Tyler teaching English to children in China, Ryan going to Kazakhstan unless he becomes a Navy Seal, Dominika to Harvard, and Jasmine to Cambridge University. And many, many more.
All of you came to Washington and Lee in the fall of 2008. Lehman Brothers was still with us. A Republican president was about to enact the largest stimulus and bailout program this country had ever seen. Europe was considered a place of stability. China was an emerging country. Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House. Unemployment was 6%. There were no iPads. Blackberry’s were considered innovative. Our debt ceiling was a mere $10.6 trillion.
Things have changed the last four years and so have you. I’m not sure that the changes out there were for the better. I am sure that the changes within you were.
So it was my admiration for all of you that brought to mind my admiration of people like Pam and Severn and the many others following in their footsteps who sit over there to your right. And I realized once again that the defining quality of this University is the quality of its people; and that the character of this community and the character of the individuals who belong to it are mutually reinforcing.
We forget these days that institutions shape our values, whether intentionally or by default. At Washington and Lee we are intentional about it and our aspirations are high. We strive to create a community with certain patterns of interactions among the individuals who comprise it—patterns that teach us what we owe to each other; and patterns that influence the way you live your lives when you leave here.
Cooperation is an acquired skill. And so our students are entrusted with great responsibility for their own affairs. Civility is a virtue that must be cultivated. And so we can be oppressively persistent in our reminders to greet each other and extend uncommon courtesy to friends and strangers. Telling the truth is so much easier when there is a presumption that everyone else is telling the truth. We believe that a community based on trust is simply better than one based on self-interest. You are about to leave a community that takes such matters seriously and enter a society that does not. You can either surrender to the headwinds you will face, or you can, like many alumni before you, take strength from what this community has taught you.
I’m betting the headwinds will be no match for the moral disposition you acquired just by being here and associating with some of the finest people you will ever know. The bonds of friendship will endure for a lifetime; and the habit to show respect for others—for a habit is exactly what it has become–will prove durable even when it is not reciprocated.
But there’s another reason Pam, Severn, and all of you have been on my mind recently. Regrettably there is a great deal of noise in the national discussion of higher education, hand-wringing over the business model, concerns about student debt, the fascination with “disruptive innovation,” anxiety over the liberal arts as a luxury that can no longer be afforded, excitement over online learning, the possibility of three-year degrees, the worries over college completion rates, the panacea-like hope for collaboration among colleges—the list goes on.
In the midst of all the confusion, we have forgotten what a college is for. We would do well to remind ourselves that education, especially a liberal arts education like the one you had here, is one of relationships, of learning together what you cannot learn alone. Washington and Lee is not in the business of dispensing information. We are in the business of educating students, creating knowledge, and instilling within all of us, faculty and students alike, a capacity and thirst for wisdom.
Education—as opposed to job training or information sharing–has an element of surprise to it, the kind that Ben Hale found in his after-class friendship with a professor of English Literature. The lessons Severn taught him may have started with the study of literature, then bounced over to cooking Swiss chard, but ultimately it ended up on the much higher plane of how to live a life and how to treat others. Maybe there’s a way to monetize that, to find out if it is worth the cost; or maybe there’s a way to make that interaction more efficient; or maybe there’s a way to measure the outcomes with the total precision. Maybe.
But I don’t know how to measure the lesson that Pam Simpson taught all of us that memorable day last fall—a lesson that had nothing to do with architecture, or history, or even Washington and Lee but rather about the quality of human relationships and the importance of belonging to a community that could care about such things.
According to Andrew Delbanco, Judith Shapiro, the former president of Barnard College, once advised a group of students to come to college with one simple goal. “You want the inside of your head to be an interesting place to spend the rest of your lives.”
I echo her wish. I certainly hope you developed your mind during your time at Washington and Lee. But I wouldn’t stop there. I hope you have also developed your heart. I hope you have learned the importance of being in relationships with people who care about you; and that you retain throughout your lives the humility to learn from them.
With admiration and fondness for each and every one of you and with gratitude for spending the most important years of your life with us, I wish you the very best. Thank you.
President of the Student Body
Washington and Lee University
May 24, 2012
Thank you President Ruscio for inviting me to speak here on this beautiful May morning. I can’t think of a better day or a better view than that of the colonnade from where I now stand. When each of you, my classmates, come up here in a few minutes, I encourage you to look at the red bricks that Robert E. Lee tread on 142 short years ago. I ask that you gaze at the eggshell columns brushed against by thousands of alumni. I hope that you’ll be refreshed by the green grass that you tread upon only days ago. And I pray that you peer upon the faces of your classmates that you may not see again for another five, ten, or twenty five years.
As you stand on this stage, look to your left at the faculty members that you once loved—and others who you didn’t. The men and women who sit before you wearing funny hats and capes—funnier, even, than our own—have brought us a long way. I imagine that there is not one of you who have not met with a teacher in their office and talked about something other than shop. Baseball, football, politics, cooking, how they could hear the noise from your Saturday night party from their bedroom—we’ve all had opportunities to get to know this faculty and administration in ways that are unique to this place.
As your gaze shifts from President Ruscio’s eyes, to your diploma, to the colonnade, to the faculty, I hope they will rest finally on your family who sits before you—pausing an extra second with a giant smile as they take your picture from the back row. As you look at Mom, Dad, grandparents, and siblings, remember all of the support that they have given you. Think about all that they have sacrifice to send you to Washington and Lee, just to see you reach this day, and how excited they are not to send another check addressed to this place.
They didn’t send you here simply because they knew you’d learn how to tap a keg, though I’m sure it played into their decision. They sent you here, so that you’d learn to think and speak and read and write and research. They knew that after four years—because that’s all they told you that they would pay for—at W&L that you would walk away ready to take on the world.
Download a pdf of the speech
In a few minutes you will walk across this stage and become and alumnus or alumna of Washington and Lee University. From there you will run off to Law School, Medical School, New York, DC, the Grand Tetons, or back home. Once you step off of this stage though, after a few seconds, a couple of handshakes, and a pause for a picture, you will become a certified adult, with a $200,0000 piece of paper to prove it. All of a sudden, you will be automatically incapable of behaviors involving drunkenness, debauchery, and immaturity… at least until Alumni Weekend.
Graduating from Washington and Lee University is different from graduating from most other schools. Rather than joining hundreds of thousands of living alumni, we join only a few thousand. Yet these few thousand are proud and proud of this place. They know what it is to be a W&L student, and they live successful lives across the country.
Just last summer I was working on a gubernatorial campaign back home in Mississippi, and the whole campaign staff was required to go to Philadelphia, Mississippi for the Neshoba County Fair. It’s a huge event in that hosts more than 600 log cabins that only receive electricity during the two weeks leading up to the fair and the days following. The grounds are huge and the cabins are tightly lined with only four feet of space between them around a horse track.
I knew one person in the entire county—a coworker four years older than me who graduated from Mississippi State—and I had no intention of leaving his side. After an hour of forced conversations with strangers—primarily about the Mississippi heat—we headed to a cabin where my friend knew people—and of course, I didn’t. As we walked down the red clay road, though, I saw a blue flag with a familiar white logo hanging from a cabin. Knowing nobody else in the whole all of Neshoba County, I left my friend telling him that we’d meet up later, stepped onto the porch and knocked on the sliding glass door. On the glass was a W&L Alumni sticker.
I asked the man who answered if anyone in the house had gone to W&L, and immediately a smile beamed across his face. I was ushered in, handed a beer (the man joked that he knew I’d prefer a Natural Light), and joined by his son, a 2004 graduate of W&L. After the two of them interrogated me about Lexington, Greek life, student houses, Honor System, the President, Deans, and so on for an hour, I reluctantly left the cabin. When I rejoined my friend, he asked me where I’d been and how I’d known those strangers. I told him that I’d seen the flag and that frankly, “these were my people.” We then both looked out over the sea of cabins, all covered in Ole Miss and Mississippi State flags, he shook his head and said, “Yeah, that wouldn’t really work for me.”
The great thing about Washington and Lee is that it works for us. We are a small knit group that—though not based out of a central area or region—sticks together behind a place. I’ve got friends at Ole Miss who can probably tell you somebody who lives in 50 to 55 of the 82 counties of Mississippi if they think about it. But what I’m proud of is that I can do them one better. Looking through my cell phone the other day, I realized that should I have a blowout somewhere, I could make a call—though potentially an awkward one—but I could make a call and have either help or a place to stay in 41 out of 50 states—and that includes Alaska (if anyone is from Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Montana, either Dakota, Hawaii, Vermont, New Hampshire, let me know after this). This place has brought together a group of people who are diverse, smart, care about doing their work, and who love where they are now. That is one of my favorite aspects of this place.
Back in August, I had the responsibility of introducing President Ruscio to the freshmen parents before Orientation Week. These men and women likely heard the same speech that your parents here today heard back then. President Ruscio asked them to close their eyes, and he led them on the journey that would be their child’s college experience. It involved papers, parties, and even police records—he truly prepared them for everything.
But he closed his remarks by making the parents that were falling asleep in the back wake up with a jolt. He mentioned that inevitably every year, two freshmen, somewhere during their four-year span, fall in love, and will be engaged to be married with Lee Chapel wedding plans by graduation. Our class has seen that.
Our class was the last to see the Colonnade before renovation, and the first to take a class in the new Newcomb Hall. We were the first Johnson Scholars—translated “curve busters”. Our class acceptance rate was 16.81%. We have witnessed the innovation of a “social floor” of the library. We’ve seen a porch collapse. We’ve seen a student home engulfed in flames. We’ve seen 18 inches of snow, and many of us may never see anything like it again. We were the last to enjoy a 6-week Spring Term. We correctly picked the Republican nominee though our Mock Convention—chaired for four years by members of our class. We witnessed an Open Honor Hearing. We’ve watched fraternities get kicked off campus, return, and get booted again. We were here for the birth of a new sorority and the mansion that followed. We’ve danced at four Fancy Dresses. We saw the election of new President of the United States, and we listened as our classmates both danced in the quad and “Booed” throughout Graham Lees. We’ve experienced four O-Weeks. Faculty Members, administrators, trustees, and classmates have all come and gone during our four years at W&L. We’ve seen ODAC Championships and national championships. And everyone here today has even passed a swim test, though, admittedly, myself included, many of us would float better now than when we initially arrived on campus.
Yet here we are. Here we sit, only a few minutes away from the next chapter in our lives—I’m sure someone just won a $5 bet thanks to that phrase. In a few moments you will walk up these stairs a student of this university, and will walk down them an alumnus or alumna. I hope that after you leave here, once you’ve packed up your room, loaded everything into your U-Haul, kissed your housemother goodbye, and hugged the last of your friends, that you will remember this place. Remember what it means to live in an environment where people trust you and take you at your word. People often talk about the “W&L Bubble” after they leave here. Here, in Lexington, you are safe, they tell you. But once you graduate, everything changes. I ask, though, that you not change simply because you are no longer in Lexington. I ask that you remember what you learned at Washington and Lee, for what you learned here—a lifestyle of honor and integrity—is what unites every single Washington and Lee class and it’s 20,000 living alumni. What you learned here, you could not have learned anywhere else.
Five Washington and Lee Faculty Retire
Washington and Lee University recognized five retiring members of the University’s faculty during commencement exercises on Thursday, May 24.
The five retirees have a combined total of 135 years of service to W&L.
They are Denis Brion, professor of law; Michael J. Evans, the Lillian and Rupert Radford Professor of Mathematics; Frank Miriello, head football coach; Gordon Spice, the Edwin A. Morris Endowed Professor of Music and head of the Department of Music; and Cecile West-Settle, professor of Spanish.
Denis Brion joined the School of Law faculty in 1978 and has taught courses in real and personal property, private land regulation, law and economics, real estate transactions, and jury advocacy. He is the author of “Essential Industry and the NIMBY Phenomenon” (Quorum Books, 1991) and numerous book chapters, law review articles and scholarly papers.
Brion received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Northwestern Unviersity and his J.D. from the University of Virginia, where he was editor-in-chief of the Virginia Journal of International Law. Prior to joining the W&L law faculty, he served as a staff attorney with the Communications Satellite Corp. and senior counsel for RCA Global Communication before joining the law faculty at the College of William and Mary in 1978. He served as visiting professor at the Boston College Law School. He was named Professor of Law, Emeritus.
Michael J. Evans came to Washington and Lee in 1993 as the Radford Professor of Mathematics and also served as head of the department from 1993 to 2001. He received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University and his master’s and PH.D. in mathematics from Michigan State University.
Prior to W&L, Evans was on the faculty at North Carolina State University, where he also directed the undergraduate programs in mathematics. He won an Outstanding Teacher Award and membership in the Academy of Outstanding Teachers at N.C. State in 1992.
At Washington and Lee, he received three Glenn Summer Research Grants and was part of a team of faculty members who wrote a successful $500,000 grant proposal to the W.M. Keck Foundation to initiate a multidisciplinary program in nonlinear dynamics. He also received a National Science Foundation Grant to host the 26th Summer Symposium on Real Analysis at W&L in June 2002. He was named Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus.
Frank Miriello finished his career as Washington and Lee’s head football coach with the most wins in school history. During 17 years as the Generals’ head coach, his teams won 90, lost 79 and tied one for a winning percentage of .532. Under his leadership, W&L finished at .500 or better in 12 of his 17 seasons. He guided the Generals to a pair of Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) titles and the only two NCAA Tournament berths in program history.
Miriello earned his bachelor’s degree at East Stroudsburg State University. He first joined the W&L athletic department as an assistant football coach from 1978 to 1982. He then coached at Hampden-Sydney and VMI before gaining his first head coaching position at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania in 1986. In 1990, he returned to W&L as assistant coach of both football and lacrosse. In 1995, he was appointed interim head coach of football in June, permanent coach in November.
Miriello was named the ODAC Coach of the Year five times (1996, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2010). In 2006, he was named the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) South Region Coach of the Year and SportExe Division III Coach of the Year. He was promoted to associate professor in 1996 and taught physical education courses throughout his career. He has been appointed Associate Professor of Physical Education, Emeritus.
Gordon Spice became a member of Washington and Lee’s faculty in 1973. He received bachelor’s degrees from both the University of Toledo and Ohio State University, a master’s degree in music history from Ohio State and a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina.
In addition to teaching music history courses, he directed W&L’s vocal program, which grew into the University Chorus and Chamber Singers. His research into the choral music of the classical and other periods, with emphasis on the German tradition, greatly expanded the range and variety of the pieces that his vocal groups performed in concert and on important University occasions.
In 1990 Spice became the first head of the newly created department of music. From 1975-1986, he conducted the Rockbridge Community Chorus, and from 1979 to 1983 he was conductor of the Rockbridge Community Orchestra.
He is a member of the American Choral Directors Association, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia and the Music Educator’s National Conference. He is past president of the Intercollegiate Men’s Choruses Inc. and the Virginia Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association. He has been appointed Professor of Music Emeritus.
Cecile West-Settle joined the department of Romance languages at Washington and Lee in 1987. She served as department head on two different occasions and as associate dean of the College from 1995 to 1998.
West-Settle received her B.A. in Romance languages from Agnes Scott College and her Ph.D. in Spanish from Emory University. Before coming to Washington and Lee, she taught Spanish at neighboring Virginia Military Institute. Her academic specialties are 19th- and 20th-century Spanish poetry and 20th-century Spanish prose. She was coeditor of the 2005 volume “Contemporary Spanish Poetry: The Word and the World” and is the author of numerous articles and conference papers in her field.
She has participated in two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars, was a fellow at the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas in 1991 and 1992 and was a visiting scholar at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women in 1998 and 1999. She has been named Professor of Spanish, Emeritus.
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs