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‘Finding My Place at W&L’ Senior Laura Calhoun looks back at her W&L experience and celebrates the community she's built here.

Laura-Calhoun-20-800x533 'Finding My Place at W&L'Laura Calhoun ’20

“I can say with confidence that, without the community that is Washington and Lee, I would not be the person I am today.”

~ Laura Calhoun ’20

The community I have found both on campus and off during my time at Washington and Lee has shaped me in ways I could have never imagined. As graduation nears, I become more and more grateful to every person who has made it possible for me to grow so much, both as a student and as a person.

When I started applying to colleges as a senior in rural North Carolina, I didn’t have a clear picture of what I wanted my college to look like, much less my major or possible career. All I knew was that I wanted to feel at home when I walked onto campus. The first time I visited Washington and Lee, I felt a sense of community I hadn’t felt anywhere else – and so, I fell in love with Lexington.

I spent the next few weeks writing and re-writing my Johnson scholarship application, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to attend the school without it. When I got the email that I had been awarded the scholarship, I cried tears of joy and excitement knowing that I’d be able to spend the next four years building a community here. And yet, I had no idea how incredible that community would be.

During my first year, I took a Spring Term course with Professor Brotzman at Augusta Correctional Center called Profit and Punishment. The class consisted of 10 students from W&L and 10 students who were incarcerated at Augusta. I drove to my first class with no idea what to expect, and left on my last day with promises to write letters and a desperate need to share with others the inspirational people I had come to know. The community I felt with my Augusta classmates was surprising, and it entirely changed my life. Thanks to the support of many professors, academic departments and the Augusta Correctional Center, we were able to host the first student-coordinated prison art exhibition in Virginia, titled “The Unfreedom of Expression,” to begin to share those important stories with others.

In my sophomore year, I signed up for a community-based learning course in the Shepherd Poverty Studies Program. My assigned service site was The Community Table, the local “restaurant without a cash register,” where I spent my semester waiting tables, working in the kitchen and serving as a hostess. Now, I still spend every Monday night at Community Table, and I was invited to sit on the board of directors for a special term during my senior year. I am increasingly grateful for the relationships I’ve formed with the people there – the kind where we stop and chat if we run into each other in town, and the kind where I feel uplifted and joyous every Monday when I turn in my apron for the night, no matter how I felt when I walked in the door.

As a junior, I continued to build community with my professors and mentors. I’ll never forget the professor who cooked my entire class dinner to celebrate the end of the semester or the one who always stops to check in when he passes me on the Colonnade, no matter where he’s going.

Now in my senior year, I’m reminded daily of the wonderful friends I’ve made here. From weekend study sessions in Pronto, to late night talks in my apartment, to long drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I have been surrounded by some of the most intelligent, kind and genuine people.

I can say with confidence that, without the community that is Washington and Lee, I would not be the person I am today. The donors who support W&L helped me find my place here, and I will be forever thankful. That is the reason it is so important to me to give back to W&L — so those following me can have the same opportunity to thrive.

More About Laura

Hometown: Warrensville, North Carolina
Major: Strategic Communication
Minor: Poverty and Human Capability Studies

What other extracurricular activities have you been a part of at W&L?

President of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK), president/founder of Rotaract Club dedicated to community service and fundraising, arts and life editor for the Ring-tum Phi, co-founder of the Unfreedom of Expression art exhibition

What has been your favorite course at W&L so far?

In my opinion, the best classes are ones that have radically changed my perspectives and challenged me. It’s hard to choose just one because so many of them have impacted me. It’s a tie between two Spring Term classes: Professor Brotzman’s course, Profit and Punishment, that focused on the ways that corporations make money from the carceral system in the U.S., and my experience in Washington Term during my sophomore year with Professor Connelly, when I interned at the Habitat for Humanity International Government Relations and Advocacy office.

Favorite professors? 

Professor Mark Coddington and Professor Howard Pickett

Favorite Lexington Landmark?

Is it cheesy to say Pronto? Also, and this is technically a Buena Vista landmark, but long drives on the Parkway are my favorite way to get off campus and clear my head.

Favorite W&L tradition?

The Speaking Tradition! It made me feel at home here the first time I visited and made the whole college touring process seem less scary.

Why did you choose W&L? 

Johnson Scholarship, TONS of opportunities here that I couldn’t ignore, and the community I felt and built even the first time on campus.

Why are you grateful for your experience at W&L?

Because of the people I have met and the opportunities I have been given in my four years here. Every single professor I have had has been dedicated to helping me grow not only as a student, but as a human being. The friends I have made on and off campus are a testament to how special W&L is. There isn’t a single day that goes by when I don’t talk with someone who inspires me, whether that be a friend who is doing amazing research or a community member who shares their wisdom and life experience with me. I am grateful to be a part of this entire community.

What three words would you use to describe the Class of 2020?

Intellectual, thoughtful, multi-faceted