Feature Stories Campus Events

My W&L: Austin Piatt ’17

“This university can open many doors for its students, most of them unexpected.”

When I arrived on campus as a first-year, I thought my W&L experience would be summed up by two words: student-athlete. I chose Washington and Lee to receive a great education and to play collegiate basketball. Beyond that, I was not expecting time for much else. I assumed that long hours in the gym would be followed only by late nights in the library. I did not intend to go Greek; I did not know much about our student government; I did not even know what “RA” meant.

During fall term, I focused on school, basketball and making new friends. These three endeavors were teaching me lessons I had never learned in high school. I learned the merits of hard work and discipline, as I was no longer the best player on the court or the smartest kid in the classroom. Time management became a key tool for me as I began to balance athletics and academics with an (relatively) active social life. Despite these challenges, I successfully grew closer to my teammates and made other friends as I learned the value of working with a group to achieve a common goal. These experiences began to illuminate the rewards of sacrificing selfish goals to achieve something bigger than myself. Working with others—whether teammates on the court, fellow students in the classroom, or best friends in sticky social situations—is much better than working alone.

As first semester drew to a close, I realized I wanted to become part of more “teams,” but how? Fortunately, I had picked the right school. As a Washington and Lee student, one finds him/herself surrounded by supportive friends, faculty and alumni who can unlock a plethora of opportunities. My passion to become more involved drove me to capitalize on the friendships I had forged. Through their help I became further involved, simply by pursuing my passions. I had a passion for the friendships I had built, so I joined a new social team—Beta Theta Pi Fraternity; I had a passion for helping other students, so I joined the amazing ResLife team by becoming an RA; and I had a passion for talking about how great this university is, so I became a member of the Student Recruitment team as a tour guide.

The meager two-word summarization of my experience was rapidly expanding, and I was determined to keep it growing. I developed a passion for student governance, as I was appointed to the Community Grant Committee, the White Book Review Committee, and an alternate Justice for the Student Judicial Council. Being a politics and philosophy major, I am naturally passionate about both of these disciplines—especially after two internships in DC—so I got involved with Mock Convention through the Platform Committee and with the Mudd Center for Ethics as an editor for the annual Ethics Journal. My passion to become a part of something bigger than myself also led me to get involved with many other organizations, such as Kathekon, 24, Generals’ Leadership Academy and Peer Tutoring.

If I were to summarize “my W&L,” I certainly would need more than the two words I originally expected. But the greatest part about my experience is that I am not a rare student at Washington and Lee. There are so many young men and women who expand their involvement beyond the classroom by connecting themselves to many different types of teams. As witnessed by my example, this university can open many doors for its students, most of them unexpected. All one has to do is pursue their passions and choose which doors to walk through. I firmly believe that one of W&L’s greatest strengths is that a vast majority of its students will walk across the graduation stage having received more than the diploma of a college education—they will have received the intangible reward of a holistic college experience, woven with their own personal passions, best friends, supportive teams and fondest memories.

Hometown: Dayton, Ohio

Majors: Politics (focus American Government) and Philosophy

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Community Grant Committee
  • White Book Review Committee
  • Resident Assistant
  • Peer Tutors Program Coordinator
  • Mock Convention Platform Committee
  • Alternate for Student Judicial Council
  • Generals’ Leadership Academy
  • Kathekon
  • 24
  • Editor for the Mudd Center for Ethics Journal
  • Tour Guide
  • Beta Theta Pi Fraternity
  • Varsity Basketball

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Internship for the Ohio Secretary of State in Columbus, Ohio
  • Internship for Congressman Steve Stivers in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.
  • Internship for Navigators Global Lobbying Firm in Washington, D.C.

Post-Graduation Plans: Work in D.C., then go to law school.

Favorite W&L Memory: Patrick O’Connor hitting a half court shot at the buzzer to beat Roanoke my freshmen year.

Favorite Class: Introduction to Contemplative Political Philosophy

Favorite W&L Event: Midnight Breakfast

Favorite Campus Landmark: Lee Chapel

What’s your passion? Giving back to the communities that have given so much to me.

What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you? I love to cook.

Why did you choose W&L? The people, the tradition, the opportunities.

Why did you choose your major? I have always been very interested in those two areas, so it made sense to major in them.

What professor has inspired you? Eduardo Velasquez

Advice for prospective or first-year students? Don’t be afraid to be bold with your college career. Grab it by the horns and make the most of it, not just every year, but every day. Don’t be a passive observer. Go out there and pursue your passions.

What do you wish you’d known before you came to campus? What classes I was taking.