An Affection for Connections W&L has allowed Christopher Watt '21 to meet other members of the community and find a future career where three of his passions converge.
“My favorite part of life is building relationships, and I knew that a small school environment would allow me to get to know people from a variety of groups and backgrounds, campus-wide.”
~ Christopher Watt ’21
Minors: Environmental studies; poverty and human capability
Q: What factors led you to attend W&L?
I grew up visiting W&L with my mom (’89) and dad, and as a passionate outdoorsman, I fell in love with this area. From a young age, I was drawn to the tightly knit community I witnessed when in Lexington. I never met an alum or student whose story and experiences tied to W&L were not incredibly interesting. My favorite part of life is building relationships, and I knew that a small school environment would allow me to get to know people from a variety of groups and backgrounds, campus-wide. Academically, I was also really drawn to the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, and the opportunity to get to know professors outside the classroom. Finally, the Honor System and the freedom I believe it provides in forming trusting, open relationships was a huge draw.
Q: Why study economics, environmental studies, and poverty and human capability studies at W&L, and what do you hope to do with your education?
The Shepherd Program has been the most important part of my academic experience at W&L. I have always had an interest in economic development and working with communities to support them in achieving that which they desire and value. I saw connections between my poverty studies and economics courses, but I could not find a place for my personal passions in the outdoors and conservation. After a summer working on a Nature Conservancy cattle ranch in Idaho as a part of W&L’s A. Paul Knight Internship Program, I realized that conservation needed to be incorporated into my academic path and career aspirations, so I joined the Environmental Studies Program.
While deciding on a topic for my poverty studies capstone last winter, I recognized an intersection of my three areas of study with my love for fishing and decided to focus my research on poverty and wellbeing in artisanal fishing communities. Stemming from this work, I interned for a conservation and economic development organization called Indifly, which uses fly fishing to help Indigenous communities protect their resources and create sustainable livelihoods. I am carrying that work forward into my environmental studies capstone to develop a socio-economic metric of Indifly’s impacts, and I hope to continue working at the nexus of sustainable development, poverty alleviation and environmental protection beyond graduation. Ideally, I will find myself in the South Pacific next year.
Q: You were recognized with the Outstanding Male Peer Counselor Award at W&L. Why do you do peer counseling, and what has that experience meant to you?
I first applied to be a peer counselor because of the positive impact my PC had on my first-year experience and adjustment to college. Growing up, I had severe anxiety, and it was family and friends who encouraged me through darker moments in my life. I am a firm believer that human connection is our greatest source of meaning and fulfillment. It is also our greatest asset in facing adversity. Hence, I am grateful to have created some of my strongest relationships at W&L through the counselor role, both with other PCs and many of my residents, who have poured immense love and support into my life. I hope to be a visible and encouraging upperclassman in younger students’ lives, standing with them as they navigate their ups and downs, as others have done for me. W&L students experience pressure to be nothing short of perfect. Ultimately, I believe everyone deserves the love and respect of a trustworthy friend and should know they have a home on our campus.
Q: You’re also very involved in the Outing Club. What kind of adventures have you had through the club, and how has it impacted your time at W&L?
The OC rocks! Many of my greatest experiences at Washington and Lee have taken place outdoors. The club has shown me the multitude of opportunities to enjoy the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley. I spend part if not all of most Saturdays either trail running on the Appalachian Trail or trout fishing in the creeks and rivers around Lexington. They are my “happy places.” More importantly. I have been surrounded by other outdoor fanatics and newcomers alike who simply enjoy exploring new areas and want to have a good time with other cool, goofy people. The Outing Club has an amazing way of encouraging people to be exactly who they are, as nature frees and disarms us of the arbitrary fronts that many feel the pressure to put up in normal social settings. It is a beautiful experience. I’m grateful to have learned a ton about leadership and making the most of every moment in college from James Dick, W&L’s director of outdoor education and recreation. He’s the man!
Q: Why did you help to found the W&L Running Club?
Many students came to the idea of having a club here together, namely Elizabeth Grist ’22, Elizabeth Sjovold ’24, Rheannon Loth ’24 and Jonathan Tucker ’21. When I arrived on campus in the fall after summer quarantine, I was amazed by the number of people I saw running on the Chessie and Woods Creek trails. I love running as a release of stress and time to recharge, and I believe many others have enjoyed it for the same reasons in the midst of the pandemic. Many of us missed the spontaneous interactions that felt more absent last semester and experienced distance from friends we didn’t share classes with or live with, yet many of us were out running, just not together. We think the club could be another avenue to bring people together and create connections through a shared passion, as well as provide a means of socialization during and after runs, when we plan to stop at local restaurants such as Heliotrope or Sweet Things to hang out and be in community.
Q: Has anyone been a mentor to you at W&L?
Absolutely. I am grateful for the relationships I have built with each of my professors, but in particular, I have looked up to Professor Howard Pickett since before I was enrolled in the university. His gracious and understanding view of the world is inspiring. Professor Jon Eastwood has been a huge encouragement throughout my time as well. I am also thankful for the mentorship of Professor Robert Humston in the Environmental Studies Program as I pursue a career in conservation. We have also bonded over our common love of fishing.
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More About Christopher
What is your personal motto or favorite saying?
Over the past year, I’ve leaned into this idea: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.” This has been particularly encouraging in the time of COVID-19. However, my personal motto is “Por qué no?” or “Why not?”
What’s your favorite shop or restaurant in Lexington?
I spend a lot of time at the Lexington Coffee Shop and really appreciate how welcoming everyone who works there is.
What do you get there?
Black coffee and a bagel with cream cheese. Simple and easy.
What’s your favorite spot on campus?
The main floor of the library. It’s 100% a social spot. If I am ever just looking for a friend to talk to, I walk a lap around there until I find someone to sit with.
What book or film do you recommend to everyone?
“The Book of Joy.” It is a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu about their life journeys to finding joy, gratitude and hope in a world so often characterized by suffering. It has changed my life and the way I treat my relationships with others. Regardless of someone’s religious or philosophical affiliation, one can find hope and life in their stories. I would recommend the audio book version because it feels like you are part of the discussion.
What’s the one food you can’t do without?
Peanut butter—it’s a life saver.
Favorite W&L event?
Parents’ Weekend. It’s an absolute blast and I always love the energy of getting to know other people’s families.
Favorite place you’ve ever been?
Alaska. It still feels like such a wild place, and the wildlife, raw landscapes and lack of development beckon adventure.