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‘Bloom Where You’re Planted’ Through numerous clubs, her classwork and her peers, JoAnn Michel '18 has found a place to grow at W&L.

“Today, students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in several multicultural student organizations, such as Multicultural Students Association, Student Association for Black Unity, and more.”

JoAnne Michel

I could go on about the many wonderful things that have come together to create my W&L experience thus far: the top-notch academics, an alumni network that is both vast and accessible, the special bonds that I have forged with several deans and professors. I’ve been able to sit down with brilliant scholars, speakers, politicians and celebrities — many of whom are also proud alums. I have seen firsthand that the W&L name and crest carry the influence of an institution that attracts excellence and is anchored by its traditions. I was thrilled to learn that I had been accepted into the class of 2018, but I was also a little apprehensive to have been planted here. Many of the traditions in which Washington and Lee takes so much pride were not created to accommodate me. As time went on, I realized that the only way I could truly bloom was if I learned to accommodate myself.

At first, I was unsure of how to deal with certain aspects of W&L’s academic and social atmospheres. I quickly became aware that my fields of study were not initially considered “diverse;” it was not uncommon for me to be the only person of color in the room. Too often, I was afraid to vocalize my ideas during class discussions because they seemed so out-of-place. At one point, I decided not to suppress my unique perspectives, but to put them to use. My writing assignments became conduits for deeper discussion, with topics ranging from “the presence of the post-race narrative in American literature” to my own experiences as a black student at Washington and Lee. When the idea for a French club was introduced my sophomore year, I saw an opportunity to lend more visibility to multiple Francophone countries and their respective cultures, and not just France itself.

There was a time when neither women nor people of color were represented on this campus at all. When they were admitted, each group took action — not as guests, but as full members of this institution. Today, students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in several multicultural student organizations, such as Multicultural Students Association, Student Association for Black Unity, and more.  The members of each of these groups have something in common: Their persistence and presence on campus have changed the dynamic of the entire university. I can only hope that through my major, my writing, and my work with the Francophone Student Organization, I have done the same.

With the endless support and guidance of family, faculty, and friends, I have found a way to transform Washington and Lee University into My W&L. I was worried that by coming here, I would give up the chance to connect to my own identity and background. I had been planted, but I wasn’t sure that I would be able to grow. As my third year comes to an end, I know that I have bloomed. I have learned more about myself and how my identity enhances my position as a student at this school. In doing so, I have worked to educate my peers on how academic and cultural diversity are crucial to our success as a university, and I have also learned so much from them. Many of W&L’s issues result from a tenuous, long-standing history that is difficult to confront. My presence at Washington and Lee presented me with both the challenge and purpose to demand visibility. I am glad to have fulfilled my purpose here because I know that in making room for myself, I have also made room for others like me.

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A little more about JoAnn

Hometown:
Alexandria, Virginia

Major: French
Minor:
Creative Writing

Extracurricular involvement:
– Francophone Student Organization
– QuestBridge Scholars Chapter
– Student Association for Black Unity (SABU)
– W&L Choir

Off-campus activities/involvement:
– Current College Mentor with the Prepory Coaching Group
– 2016 Intern for the Alexandria-Caen Sister Cities Committee
– BRYCE (Bright Resilient Youth Committed to Enrichment) Project Alum

Why did you choose your major?
I have always loved French, having grown up in Francophone culture. I grew up speaking English, but both of my parents are native French speakers. I took my first French class in 6th grade, and by 10th grade I knew that I wanted to continue studying it in college, if given the chance. While I was choosing through QuestBridge’s partner colleges, I did extra research on each school’s Romance Language course offerings and potential language majors. Now that I’m on the other side of the French BA, I can honestly say that I couldn’t have found a more perfect fit.

What professor has inspired you?
This is a definite tie between my advisors, Professor Domnica Radulescu and Professor Deborah Miranda.

What’s your personal motto?
Bloom where you’re planted.

Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
I try to get Sweet Things ice cream at least once every semester. My go-to is cookie dough, but I usually pair it with either coffee or sweet cream.

What do you wish you’d known before you came to campus?
I’m from the city, so I really wish someone had warned me about the outdoorsy culture that is Lexington. Before W&L, my limited interactions with nature were very few and far between. My idea of caving was going on a guided Luray Caverns tour, and hiking meant a quick drive to Great Falls. I could not have been more wrong.

Post-graduation plans:
Right now, the plan is to apply for as many programs as I can find, including grad school, TFA, TAPIF, and more. I’m also lucky to have studied both English and French, because there’s so much I can do with them.

Favorite W&L Memory:
At this point, my favorite memory would be going on the 2017 Alternative Break Service Trip to Birmingham, Alabama with the Nabors Service League.

Favorite class:
“African Feminisms” with Professor Tallie. (He inspires me, too!)

Favorite W&L event:
The SABU Black Ball

Favorite campus landmark:
The Colonnade — especially after a fresh snow.

What’s your passion?
I have realized a passion for cultural learning that has only deepened since I arrived at W&L. I grew up in a community that was full of people from so many different countries and walks of life, and I love learning about who they are and where they’ve been.

What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I absolutely love spicy food. The hotter, the better — and that’s probably not hot enough.

Why did you choose W&L?
Thanks to the QuestBridge scholarship, W&L chose me first. When I got here, I saw that I could be useful. I found work that I could do, and conversations that I could start. That’s why I chose it back.