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Building Strong Foundations

President Ruscio’s Message

In late April I met with the 200 high school seniors and their families who attended our Accepted Students’ Day and were trying to decide whether Washington and Lee is where they want to spend the next four years.

I told the students that I wanted them to think not just about the next four years, but a lifetime, and to imagine themselves not merely as students of Washington and Lee, but as alumni. “Consider what it will be like,” I told them, “when you come back in 2066 to celebrate your 50th reunion and look back on lives of accomplishment that were based on the foundation provided during your four years here.”

This brought to mind those numerous conversations I have had with alumni who tell me that they think about leadership and integrity every day and that they attribute this to their time at Washington and Lee.

Here is an example of what I mean

A few weeks before commencement, I received an e-mail from the registrar. This is a time of year when you don’t want to get e-mails from the registrar—whether you’re a student or the University president. So I read it with some trepidation.

The registrar was tracking down last-minute details to make sure that seniors could graduate. One such detail is working with the dozen or so students who have not yet passed the swim test.

The note read: “One day last week, a senior woman came in and told us that her degree audit incorrectly showed that she had completed her swimming test. She said she had never taken the test. She was sent to not taken the test. We removed the incorrect notation from her record, and she is scheduling a time to complete this part of her W&L education. Her example speaks for itself.”

Indeed, it does.

That foundation begins with W&L’s sense of place. There are many specific places that hold special meaning— from the footbridge to Goshen Pass to House Mountain to Alvin Dennis. The most important one to alumni is the historic Colonnade, which is undergoing renovation. The restoration is well underway; Newcomb and Payne Halls are completed. In just a few short months, Washington Hall will reopen its doors. Then it’s on to Robinson and Tucker. Although there are days when I look at budget sheets and architectural drawings and make difficult business decisions on this project, the Colonnade remains, for me, symbolic of everything we are trying to do at this University.

We continue to protect the timeless values as we prepare our students for a different and challenging future.

In 2066, when students who enter this fall return for their 50th reunion, the Colonnade will look exactly as it always has. It will embody the same grace and strength that have characterized the University for centuries. And inside will be a 21st-century education that is still informed by the same values that cause a student not to take a shortcut, but to insist on passing the swim test.