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My W&L: Austin Pierce ’15

“It is the strength of community and society that really makes W&L more than simply another great university.”

W&L is truly one of those hidden jewels on the education scene. However, for those lucky enough not only to have found it, but also to have made it their home for four years, they have stepped into something bordering on the magical.

The rudimentary facts about W&L stick out easy enough: the students are smart, the campus is beautiful, and it has strong cultural traits like the Honor System and Speaking Tradition. However, what makes W&L as strong as an institution as it is to its students requires more than that. I call it “the W&L Effect.” It is the strength of community and society that really makes W&L more than simply another great university.

For me, this has been apparent in several different areas of university life. First and foremost, the cross-section of students in many different extra-curricular activities helps to weave a fabric of student connections across the university. My experience in choir shows this heartily. Most afternoons, students hurry into Wilson Concert Hall to work on creating ephemeral yet stunningly beautiful art. What is most amazing of all is that students do not simply come down from practice rooms where they had been practicing arias for a music major recital. Yes, some students do just that, but most come from studying in the Science Center, volunteering at local schools, or taking a class in one of many subjects. Through that musical experience together, we reveal some of the most intimate and personal parts of our souls, and it creates a family within the confines of the University.

This is not limited to the University’s aesthetic endeavours. Indeed, several of the strong links I have seen forged at W&L have been formed in other social arenas. Personally, I have remained outside of the Greek system, but I willingly laud it for helping many students on campus to form strong connections both with members of their own class year and with members of other class years who meld well with a particular group of individuals. Outside of the Greek system, I have personally worked to develop more such opportunities for those who remain independent and those who wish to participate in alternatives to the traditional party scene. With the efforts of a few friends, this developed into PLAY, one of the university’s newest but fastest growing student organizations.

Through the roughly biweekly activities hosted through PLAY, I have seen so many friendships and connections grow that might otherwise have not come to fruition. In its first months, it helped me to become close to several members of my class who were just acquaintances beforehand, and are now indispensable parts of my college career and subsequent life. Aside from this, I have been blessed to witness people from very different parts of campus come together and forge new friendships because they now have a forum of interaction that is attractive and entertaining to a large portion of campus.

The last major note I have on this subject ties into another of my great blessings at W&L—being a general co-chair of the First-Year Orientation Committee. This has really helped me to develop an even greater “big plan” appreciation for the W&L Effect. Here, students come together with faculty and administration to prepare our orientation activities. W&L Orientation is different from many other colleges in that we don’t bring in small groups over the summer for a few days. Instead we welcome the entire incoming class through a whole week of orientation talks and activities, and provide checkpoints for them throughout the term. This would be almost impossible without the dedicated support of so many students, and the sheer fact that we have pulled off such a massive event for years shows how much the whole W&L community—students, faculty, and administration—bond together in one of the best university experiences available.

I was originally reticent to come to W&L, but I realize now that I could have made no better choice. I am so grateful for the experiences and memories I have made here, thanks to the powerful ethos and strength of community at this school. I can truly say that the students here take ownership of a family, and we are all proud to be able to call it “Our W&L.”

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Hometown: Yorktown, VA

Majors: Philosophy, East Asian Languages and Literatures (Chinese)

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • General Co-chair of First Year Orientation Committee
  • Co-founder and President of PLAY
  • Baritone in Chamber Singers and General Admission

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Research Archivist at Texas Wendish Heritage Society

Post-Graduation Plans: Graduate School

Favorite Class: MUS 110: W&L Singers

Why did you choose W&L? The abundance of meaningful, intellectual conversations, the sense of community, and the strength of traditions.

Why did you choose your major? Philosophy provides the opportunity to study and thoroughly analyze many different facets of life. Not only do you study how to construct a valid argument, but you also study questions such as what makes a good life, how do we know things about the universe, and what actions are permissible or obligatory in certain complex situations.

Advice for prospective or first-year students? Embrace W&L and let it embrace you. The campus is certainly flexible to whatever goals you have, so long as you find the right channels. Everyone wants you to be successful, and if you look, you can find people to really nurture who you want to be.

What do you wish you’d known before you came to campus? How willing the faculty, administration, and students are to help you tailor the best possible experience at the university.