Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

My W&L: Jillian Katterhagen ’15

“Pursuing my passions in and outside of the classroom gave me an amazing opportunity to fuse those passions into an incredibly interconnected liberal arts education.”

One of my favorite memories of W&L is also one of the most exhausting days of my life. My freshman year, W&L’s home track meet coincided with the spring Dance Company performance, and on that sunny day in March, I set a new school record in the pole vault at the meet before dashing over to Lenfest Theatre to perform in my first ballet solo as a college dancer. I’d run track and danced ballet all my life, and as I set out on my college search, I worried that the day had finally arrived when I’d have to make a choice between the two. When I arrived at W&L for my recruiting visit, however, I soon realized that W&L students pride themselves on being heavily involved on campus and decided that I would do the same. More than I realized on that busy March day, attending W&L and pursuing my passions in and outside of the classroom gave me an amazing opportunity to fuse those passions into an incredibly interconnected liberal arts education.

From my very first class as a freshman at W&L, a writing seminar with Professor Keen on “schools of magic” literature, I was surrounded by faculty and students that firmly believed in the efficacy of a liberal arts education. In Professor Keen’s class, we somehow managed to translate a discussion of Harry Potter and magical pedagogy into an understanding that we, as students of a liberal arts education, were doing something special. In a world where students increasingly choose college majors based upon what will be most competitive in the job market, liberal arts students are sometimes scoffed at for spending time exploring art and literature when we could be learning something “useful.”

During my past four years at W&L, I’ve spent my fair share of time enjoying activities that, to that scary future employer, might seem frivolous. In between reading a mountain pages for Professor Merchant’s Civil War class or polishing a term paper on Lincoln for Dr. Morel, I continued to pole vault through my days and dance my nights away. While my sheer joy from continuing to do what I love most was reason choose W&L, my ability to pursue both dance and track has impacted my college years in more profound ways that I ever intended.

Competing on W&L’s track team has taught me the value of hard work and positivity in ways nothing else has. It has compelled me to grow from an athlete to into a leader. As captain this year, the honor of leading such a talented and dedicated group of women challenges me every day to improve athletically and personally as we support each other and reach new heights together.

My study of dance at W&L has broadened my creative horizons in ways I never expected. I’ve learned how to dance and appreciate a vast array of techniques, grew from dancer to choreographer as I discovered new ways to create beauty, and had the chance to share my joy of dancing with audiences from Lexington to New York City to Edinburgh. Before coming to W&L, I never considered myself creative, and clung to ballet because of its predictability and rigor. The faculty and students in the dance department here have opened my eyes to the possibility that the creation of beauty can come out of the most rigorous of established techniques. When I joined the track team and auditioned for the dance company, I did so because I found joy on the track and on the stage. Now, I see that these experiences are just as much a part of my liberal arts education as are my classes.

At liberal arts institutions, we aren’t moved along a production line of instruction for the sake of a career. We spend our days studying, running, dancing, arguing, acting, writing, reading, competing, discovering and most importantly, thinking. We learn to see connections between subjects that have nothing in common on the surface. We synthesize. We strive to fuse tradition with progress. For all those who scoff at liberal arts educations, I ask them to look at the complex problems we face in our world and argue that we don’t need exactly these kinds of abilities to start to solve them. At W&L, the liberal arts extend well beyond the classroom. Having started my W&L career as someone who unabashedly chose a liberal arts education to avoid having to make the scary choice of choosing a major as a freshman, I am proud to say that after four years, I will go forward not viewing my liberal arts education as a luxury, but as a comprehensive way to explore and affect the world around me.

If you know any W&L students who would be great profile subjects, tell us about them! Nominate them for a web profile.

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Majors: History and Politics

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • W&L Track and Field Team
  • W&L Repertory Dance Company
  • Political Review
  • Omicron Delta Kappa
  • Chi Omega

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Internships in Speaker John Boehner’s Leadership Office and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn’s Office (both in Washington, D.C.)
  • Dance performances with the W&L Dance Company in places including New York, Wilmington, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

Post-Graduation Plans: Currently applying to law schools

Favorite Class: Professor Merchant’s spring term Civil War Battlefields class or Professor Keen’s class on The Novel.

Favorite W&L Event: Every spring, the W&L Track and Field Carnival, our only home track meet, coincides with the W&L Dance Company’s spring performance. Its great to share what I love with my family and friends on that weekend.

Favorite Lexington Landmark: My favourite Lexington place is driving up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and looking down over the Shenandoah Valley.

What’s your passion? Ballet

What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you? I have dual citizenship from the US and Canada

What professor has inspired you? Professor Myers inspired me to fully embrace what I’m passionate about.