Meet the Johnsons: Harrison Westgarth ’17
“Choose W&L for the people; for the professors who challenge the perception of your own ability and intelligence, for the peers who disagree with and question your beliefs, and the friends you will make within a community that will change your life.”
Q: How did you first hear about the Johnson Scholarship?
I first heard about the Johnson Scholarship from the head swim coach, Coach Gardner. She told me all about the scholarship program when I came for my recruiting visit and suggested I look into applying. Without her suggestion, I don’t think I would have ever been aware of the scholarship to begin with.
Q: Were you considering any other colleges when you found W&L?
I was seriously struggling between the University of Rochester and Washington and Lee when it came down to my final choice. I also considered Carnegie Mellon, Wesleyan, and NYU as I narrowed down my options.
Q: Why did you ultimately choose W&L?
Many reasons. I visited three times and got a feel for the incredible sense of community that makes W&L what it is. The Johnson Scholarship was the unprecedented opportunity that provided the additional impetus leading to my ultimate decision to matriculate. There were opportunities here that weren’t available anywhere else, but there were also people here unlike any others.
Q: How has Johnson affected your views on leadership and integrity — or on academics?
The Johnson Scholarship constantly forces me to reflect on my purpose and place here at W&L. I periodically ask myself what I am doing to validate my status as a recipient of the award. Am I helping the campus change in a positive way? Am I making an impact on my peers? Am I truly performing in the classroom in a manner that would befit such an investment? I always try to conduct myself in a way that allows me to honestly answer “yes,” although it’s surely a constant process of self-evaluation.
Q: What is your favorite story about your W&L experience, if you had to pick one?
This is a hard one, mostly because it’s difficult to pick a singular instance over all the great experiences I’ve had at W&L.
Of the many, one sticks out in my mind as fully representative of the W&L experience, though it didn’t take place on campus at all. It was Thanksgiving break of freshman year, my first time traveling home. I was in the Philly airport eating lunch alone near my gate when I needed to use the bathroom. I promptly stood up, leaving all my stuff abandoned at the table, and found my way to the restroom. Upon my return everything was as I’d left it, however, it dawned on me that leaving personal items unattended in public places was something I could only enjoy under the Honor System. Until that day, I didn’t realize the extent to which W&L was so intensely impacting my daily life. From then on, I’ve been consciously thankful for the life I live in my Lexington bubble.
Q: Do you have a mentor on campus? Faculty, staff, or another student?
Yes, my advisors Dr. Simurda and Professor Mayock. Dr. Simurda has been a wonderful guide to me since the very first week of my freshman year, providing me with unending advice in the academic world, helping me pursue my dreams in the professional world, and truly ensuring that I enjoy the greatest success possible.
Professor Mayock has had a similar impact on my academic path, but has affected me most in my journey learning Spanish. She was an integral factor in the development of my current passion for the Spanish language and Hispanic culture. Her phenomenal classroom presence during my sophomore year was contagious and led me into many of the organizations that make up so much of my campus identity today. My life has been changed irrevocably for the better thanks to the guiding hands of Dr. Simurda and Professor Mayock
Q: What extracurricular are you involved in right now that you are extra-passionate about?
Of my current extracurriculars, I am most intensely passionate about ESOL. I began working with the group my sophomore year and was matched with an immigrant family from Honduras. Over the past two years, I have grown and changed with this family. My skills as a Spanish speaker have increased, as has the English of their son (much to my pride). We have been through difficult and uncertain times, and most importantly, we have shared meals and laughed together. This family has impacted me in intangible and great ways and brought immigrant issues much closer to my heart. I now also work as the In/Out of School Tutoring Coordinator with the group and continue to take great pride in the difference we try to make in the lives of immigrants and non-native English speakers in Rockbridge County.
Q: What is your favorite campus tradition or piece of history?
My favorite piece of history is the story behind the Cyrus McCormick statue.* The story goes that when McCormick was very ill in his later years he wanted to donate money to the university, but only if they would include his name in the name of the school. They said they would and accepted his money. McCormick died, but the university administration considered Washington, Lee & McCormick University too long a name and thus just built him a statue. Most people think the statue is Robert E. Lee. I also always like to mention him on my tours because I feel bad for him and he deserves a little bit of love.
Q: If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to “first day on campus” you?
If I were to give advice to “first day me,” I would likely tell him the following: Don’t be a bum and wait to do your laundry and wash your sheets at the last possible moment, strive to give back and serve on campus sooner rather than later, and don’t be anyone other than yourself.
Q: If someone asked you “why choose W&L,” what is the one reason you would tell them?
I would tell them to choose W&L for the people; for the professors who challenge the perception of your own ability and intelligence, for the peers who disagree with and question your beliefs, and the friends you will make within a community that will change your life.
*We checked with the good folks over in Special Collections and this is apparently one of the many urban legends that comes with a history as long as W&L has. For the full story (which is just as interesting), Special Collections recommends reading Dr. Ollinger Crenshaw’s The Rise and Growth of Washington and Lee University.
Thinking about W&L for college? Why not apply for the Johnson Scholarship?