The Columns

My W&L: Mary Virginia Long ’15

— by on September 5th, 2016

Mary Virginia Long '15

“W&L is a community that truly enables and encourages students to step outside of their comfort zones.”

When I came to Washington and Lee four years ago, I was unaware of the abundant opportunities and challenges that awaited me on this campus. Honestly, I thought I had my life somewhat figured out as soon as I arrived for my first day of preseason. In my mind, I had come to Washington and Lee to play collegiate field hockey and to follow a pre-med curriculum in order to pursue my adolescent dream of going to medical school. I had been training all summer for my fitness tests, and I had done my research on the specific classes I needed to take in order to ease myself into the pre-med program. However, while I did live up to my expectations, both as an athlete and a pre-medical student, I am leaving the university to go to Washington D.C. to be a kindergarten teacher for children in some of the most under-resourced areas of the city.

The Washington and Lee community is one of support. It is a community that truly enables and encourages students to step outside of their comfort zones, to test waters and try something completely new and different. Through the liberal arts curriculum, students are allowed to explore and further develop their intellectual curiosities. Furthermore, there are no restrictions in regards to how involved one can or cannot be on campus. For instance, you can be an athlete, active in the Greek system, involved in student government, clubs, etc. It is not hard to see how incredibly unique Washington and Lee truly is, as it allows students to explore so many different avenues and find success in so many ways.

Ultimately, this atmosphere of encouragement was what helped me uncover my passion for working with children in underprivileged communities. My professors and the community encouraged me to explore what I was interested in, rather than follow my initial pre-determined plans, and in doing so I have discovered different pieces of this passion and future career path. Through various courses, such as Race and Ethnic Relations with Professor Novack, different aspects of something incredibly integral to my future career were constantly being relayed and reiterated to me. The problem of educational inequity was presented to me in a profoundly different way — a way that I had never previously explored. Everything I seemed to believe in and understand was challenged, and while that initially did not settle well with me, it ultimately became a driving source of my passion.

After spending nearly six summers working as a counselor at a camp for inner-city Richmond children, I found myself faced with a great deal of uncertainty as the beginning of my senior year approached. While I had always planned on taking a gap year before medical school, I now found myself questioning my future all together. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in which I could help people, in which I could make a difference in the lives of individuals. As a child of two doctors, I believed the most natural way for me to achieve such a goal was through medicine. I never allowed myself to explore different avenues to achieve such a goal. However, when it came time to make a decision about when to schedule my MCATS, I kept coming back to the children I worked with over the summer and not only the hope I helped bring to their lives, but also the joy they brought to mine. After a great deal of reflection, I ultimately decided to put medical school on hold in order to give this other passion a chance to grow and flourish. With the guidance and support of my advisor and peers, I began applying to different teaching programs and started volunteering at a local elementary school. Even though it was completely different, I felt comforted in my decision to branch out and try something new.

If you had asked me a year and half ago if I ever thought I would become a teacher, even just for a year, I honestly don’t think my answer would have been yes. But then again, had it not been for Washington and Lee, I don’t think I would have ever had the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone, especially so late in the game, and discover a new passion.

As I walk along the Colonnade throughout my remaining four weeks as a student at Washington and Lee, I am filled with both sadness and excitement. Washington and Lee will forever hold a special place in my heart — one that can never be replaced. While I do not want to leave this place which has become my second home, I am excited and confident about my future. So when that fateful day comes that I have to say goodbye to this beautiful campus, I can leave with a smile on my face, knowing that I am prepared for whatever tomorrow may bring.