The Columns

Finding Common Ground in Lexington: Shaun Soman ’17 Shaun Soman ’17 has found an unlikely home at Common Ground, an intentional community where he did his environmental service learning placement.

— by on May 23rd, 2017

“I feel fortunate to have found a community here that has been invaluable to my development as a person.”

Shaun Soman '17Shaun Soman ’17

I believe things happen for a reason; however, I’ve come to learn that life doesn’t always make those reasons apparent from the outset. In regards to my time at Washington and Lee, it wasn’t until my second semester that I felt I had made the right decision in coming here. During the winter of my senior year of high school, I felt confident that I would attend Reed College the following autumn. Having resided in rural Wisconsin nearly my entire life, I craved the experience of being in the city. Goodbye cows, hello people! By the time I had received my offer of admission, though, my decision had been complicated by one factor: money.

Throughout high school, I pushed myself to attain a full scholarship from a top university; while I certainly preferred to enroll in a school on either coast, it was more important to me that I didn’t financially burden my family. Given this, I tried to remain open to any and all options – including a small liberal arts school in rural Virginia called Washington and Lee. I wound up visiting the university for the Johnson Scholarship competition after I had applied through QuestBridge solely because the application didn’t require any additional essays. Even though I thought – and was oddly relieved – I had botched my interviews, I was stunned when I read a letter a few weeks later congratulating me on my selection as a Johnson Scholar. Goodbye Portland, hello Lexington.

Several months later, I was attending my first class at W&L, Intro to Environmental Studies, taught by Leah Green. Over the summer, I had been uneasy about my decision to come here, but that course changed everything. One day, we were visited by Ben Eland – who is now Professor Green’s husband – and learned about Common Ground, the intentional community where they lived. I was taken instantly. I spoke with Ben after class to inquire about Common Ground, as he had mentioned that they often welcomed students to intern there in the summers, which was a strange calling for me. Even though I’d come from a rural area, I was by no means a “farm kid.”

With Professor Green’s recommendation, I wound up doing my environmental service learning placement at Common Ground the following term, and ultimately spent a summer there after my sophomore year. During this time, I was able to truly connect with various members of the university and Common Ground, in addition to Ben and Professor Green. Suddenly, it clicked; I believed I had discovered why I was meant to attend W&L.

In many ways, Washington and Lee is a special place. In my mind, though, it wouldn’t be quite as special without the people. I feel fortunate to have found a community here that has been invaluable to my development as a person. Whether chatting with a professor for hours over coffee during a time of personal crisis, or being encouraged by another to fully explore my academic and artistic interests, the people here at Washington and Lee have afforded me the opportunity to flourish intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. While I’m not sure where my path in life will lead me next, I am grateful that it led me through Washington and Lee.

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