Catching up with Laura Lemon ’16 W&L’s campus culture — from small classes to the Speaking Tradition — gave Lemon the communication skills and confidence to succeed.
What was your major at W&L, and how does it apply to your career now?
I double majored in art history and communications while in Lexington. My career as a journalist directly correlates with my communications major, but art history also really prepared me to deep dive into a subject and express it in words — especially when I’m researching for long-form history pieces. A few times I’ve written artist profiles, which I always feel is the ultimate blend of my experience at W&L.
What was your first job after graduation?
I interned for The Chronicle of the Horse magazine and then got hired as an editorial staffer. For those not familiar with horses, I like to say it’s the Golf magazine equivalent of the equestrian world. Established in the 1930s, it covers national and international competition in the three Olympic disciplines, plus a couple others.
How did W&L prepare you for your career?
Beyond my majors specifically helping me in my profession, I think the general culture of W&L prepared me more than I really realized at the time. By nature of the small class sizes, I had to learn to speak up, share a point of view or ask a question—I couldn’t hide per se, which my introverted personality sometimes leans into. Overall, that has helped me communicate with colleagues but also connect with sources to get the best responses. The Speaking Tradition subconsciously helped as well because it puts everyone, regardless of profession or age, on an equal playing field to be acknowledged. This has helped me not be as intimidated when I’m interviewing someone with an impressive resume of accomplishments and feel confident with the space I take up.
What are some of your major or memorable career milestones?
Back when I first started, my company submitted articles to the American Horse Publications, which flattered me with a couple of awards, but to be honest, the most memorable career milestones are marked instead by people and stories. I’ve brushed shoulders with a lot of childhood idols and Olympians that seemed like superhumans to me growing up — and I have since learned that they are also just people.
One of the greatest rewards as a profile writer comes when a subject opens up to you about their insecurities and battles. There’s an exchange of trust in those moments that I always feel honored to be a part of. I wrote an article right before the pandemic called “The Taboo Topic of Mental Health,” which dealt with the stigma of mental illness within the horse industry — but it really transcends all sports. In the two and a half years since, I’m still struck by how incredibly open, honest and strong my sources were. They trusted me with some extremely vulnerable experiences, and while writing it I felt such a duty to do right by them and to others just reading.
Whenever I feel that strong sense of duty — whether it’s capturing this person’s emotions correctly, like with profiles I wrote on Olympian Boyd Martin, Mexican Olympian Federico Fernández and legend Ralph Caristo, or investigating an important topic such as the inaccessibility of the sport — I consider those moments memorable milestones.
Who or what has most inspired you along the way? (Staff, faculty, classmates, internships, alumni, etc.)
Name a W&L professor, and they’ve inspired me, because my career is really a “thank you” to all of them. My coach Gordon Reistrup fostered a love for the sport that I write about. My communications advisor Professor Locy instantaneously became the journalist goal to me with her fiery personality and wit. Professor Richardson gave me an F for a fact error in my intro to news writing class because I incorrectly made something plural — and that enforced the importance of detail. My delete button has so many finger smudges now because of Professor Bent’s hatred of any form of the word “to be.” Professor Bent along with Professor Kerin, Professor King and Professor Lepage in the art history department — I really just wanted to grow up to be a blend of all of them.
What do you miss most about your time at W&L?
I miss the accessibility to explore such a wide range of interests and subjects — even if it is just out of pure curiosity with no end goal. I also miss having my friends down the hall or up the street. I’ve since come to the harsh realization that it takes a lot of planning to see the people you care about.
What was the one class you most enjoyed outside of your major, and why?
I took eco poetry my Spring Term senior year. I must admit I wasn’t very good at it, but I think about that class, without any hyperbole, every other day. First, the class allowed me to be outside and hiking in the Virginia springtime— that’s the dream right there. But at the same time, I struggled with it more than I expected. It showed me how many clichés I had relied on in my writing and taught me how to break them down and write with originality. Because of that class, I like to think I’m a better writer, although there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Though not totally outside my major, I also took a photography course while at W&L. I absolutely loved working with film and spending hours in the dark room. My dad since has gifted me his old film camera from the ’70s — I just need to give it a new battery, and then I’ll be back in the dark room praying to not cut myself on the scissors.
What is the one class or professor you wish you could return to campus and take a class with now?
I wish I could sit in on Professor King’s surrealism class again and study obscure Tibetan Buddhist art with Professor Kerin.
What is one thing on your W&L bucket list that you would still like to accomplish?
I never went to the Safari Park (more out of fear of sacrificing my car) or heard music at Lime Kiln. I have tubed the Maury River — but not nearly as much as I’d like.
What advice would you give to next year’s graduating class?
Savor the time that you are in, whether it’s your last Spring Term W&L or your first year at the job. While it’s important to have goals for the future, don’t forget the time and space you occupy now.
Tell a favorite memory in five sentences or less.
My best friend Haley Miller and I got in our heads that we would do a sunrise hike to Sharp Top before finals senior year. We convinced about two cars worth of friends to join us, and we got to the top 30 minutes earlier than we planned. There was a lot of December huddling to stay warm, but then the colors started to appear. Looking back, it was such a wonderful time being high above the world, with my closest friends sitting together on this rock watching the sun come up.
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