My W&L: Chauncey Baker ’15
“At W&L you’ll find the support to pursue anything.”
When I applied to Washington and Lee my senior year of high school, I wanted nothing more than to go to this beautiful college with its amazing campus and even more amazing English department. The school website was on my bookmarks and I would read over course offerings and the details of the institution. I am not joking. I was dead set on attending this school. I told all of my teachers and friends that this was exactly where I wanted to be.
I was lucky enough to be invited to compete in the Johnson Weekend, as well as another highly competitive full-ride scholarship at a school in Seattle. The interview at Seattle was about two weeks earlier, and when I drove off of I-5 into the bustling districts of Seattle, I fell in love. All of my best laid plans were thrown very much awry. I decided that if I got the scholarship, I would go to Seattle. It was just such a perfect place. Unfortunately (or as you’re about to find out, fortunately), I didn’t get it. I got the rejection letter the day before I was supposed to leave to interview for the Johnson Scholarship. And when I got to Lexington, I was in a bad mood. Still reeling from rejection, my luggage had been lost in Chicago, and I was exhausted from traveling since four a.m. I had very little energy left to fall in love with a college — or anything, really.
Two weeks later I got a letter congratulating me on my achievements and offering me a scholarship. My whole family was ecstatic. My high school teachers told me that I’d finally come in to my own, and that I deserved it. I felt very little except the heavy knowledge that no matter what other schools accepted me, I was going to Washington and Lee. I couldn’t turn down such an amazing offer from a top twenty university, no matter how much I liked another school.
Then, when I finally packed up and moved to Virginia, everything settled in. I was going to classes, meeting people, and slowly falling in love. The amazing things about Washington and Lee were still there and I found myself drawn to them inexorably. I involved myself in the theater department, worked hard in my English classes, and began taking Japanese. My four years here fell into place exactly as my 16-year-old self had planned. I ended up writing a creative honors thesis, one of the offerings that drew me to Washington and Lee’s English department. I majored in Japanese and even visited Japan for a month. I’ve starred in, stage managed, and directed shows on the W&L stage, and I couldn’t be happier with the person I’ve become. It’s weird how we get distracted from our dreams and yet manage to scramble our way back onto the path we planned on all along. And that’s the truly great thing about W&L, it allows its students to personalize their education. The faculty here is so supportive and the environment so rich with inspiration that it was easy to make this place my own.
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Hometown: Dallas, Oregon
Majors: English and Japanese
- W&L Theater Department
- Mindbending Student Productions
- LGBTQ Peer Counselor
Off-Campus Experiences: 2014 Kanazawa Spring Term Abroad
Post-Graduation Plans: Going where the wind takes me
Favorite W&L Memory: Last year (2014), it snowed at least two feet and for the first time in ages, W&L had a snow day. It felt like a gift from the gods. I’d had so much work to do and now I had an extra day to do it. Like the quintessential college junior I was, I obviously did none of it. Instead, I slept in until noon and then trekked from my off campus apartment to my friend’s Wood’s Creek Apartment and we had a snowball fight in the field by the law school. We made snow angels and built a rather pathetic excuse for a snowman. In order to surprise me, she made a snow ball and pelted it at me from across the field. Unfortunately, to neither of our knowledge, there was a small rock in the little ball of snow she made. The rock hit me in the face and my forehead immediately started bleeding. It was all okay in the end because we went inside, watched movies and drank hot cocoa while I held a paper towel to my forehead until the bleeding stopped. She couldn’t stop apologizing and I couldn’t stop laughing.
What’s your passion? Writing. I started writing at a relatively young age and, while I used to be terrible at it, I think I’ve improved with age. I sort of forgot how much I loved writing until I took a playwriting class with a guest professor my junior year and it all came back to me. I immediately decided that I wanted to add a creative writing minor to my double English and Japanese majors, pursue an MFA and write a creative honors thesis. While playwriting sparked my interest, I rediscovered poetry the following semester and fell in love. I’ve been writing a collection of poetry for my senior English honors thesis and while it’s been crazy challenging, I’ve loved having the opportunity to push myself as a writer.
What professor has inspired you? Every single professor I’ve had at Washington and Lee has left a mark on my perspective on the world. The professors here are so smart and care so much about their students that I considered majoring in three different areas simply because of having an awesome professor in that field. Professors that particularly stick out to me (probably because I’ve spent so much time with them and they’ve helped me through so much) are Professor Ikeda in the Japanese department. I can’t imagine a professor more willing to go out on a limb for her students and I’m so lucky to have her as an advisor. Professor Wheeler and Professor Miranda in the English department have inspired me as both a writer and student as they helped me through my thesis and introduced me to incredible new perspectives on writing and on life. Finally, Professor Mish in the theater department showed me the value of a positive attitude and supported me through my endeavors to direct a student production (which I finally did. I think it went pretty well).
Advice for prospective or first-year students? Do everything you want to. College is crazy and stressful and amazing. At W&L you’ll find the support to pursue anything, a trait of this particular university that I couldn’t be more thankful for.