My W&L: Nacho Portela ’15
“The most important thing I have learned is how to be myself.”
My need for adventure was a big reason why I decided to come to Washington and Lee for college. Admittedly, I did not know much about it coming in. Although I was plenty informed on the quality of education, I had no idea what the social scene would be like. The first thing I noticed? I was clearly not fitting in with the preppy vibes that are such a trademark of our campus. Later I learned that I was essentially all the things that the frat bro handbook tells you not to be, if you want to fit in easily. However, I would soon discover that it didn’t matter, because the Washington and Lee community was one that embraced and appreciated my individuality. Honestly, throughout my time here, I have become deeply convinced that because of the values that our honor system cultivates in us, those who are fully true to their identity can easily become leaders in the eyes of the student body.
The past four years have been filled with very important lessons, both on- and off-campus, but the most important thing I have learned is how to be myself. Now I must say that “being yourself” doesn’t mean just doing what you want, or saying everything you think. Rather it involves a constant process of self-discovery and evaluation that develops into a higher awareness of who you are and how you’re seen by those around you. I am forever thankful that I was able to go through a major phase of this process as a double major in business and theater at W&L. My business studies taught me about organization and how businesses are run, and how they affect the way the world works. Most importantly, however, they taught me about the ethical implications behind business decisions, and how to keep a solid moral compass to work not only towards profits, but for the improvement of societies as a whole. My studies in the arts taught me about responsibility and commitment. I was constantly pushed to be more creative, and to work harder to fulfil my potential as an artist. The study of these two fields forced my brain to balance the use of its right and left sides multiple times a day. It also forced me to constantly evaluate the way I behaved as a consumer in contrast with the beliefs I held, and in turn made me question multiple aspects of my personality many times in four years.
Looking back to my freshman self, I now realize what a blank canvas I was. By having been a part of such a supportive and encouraging environment, I was able to absorb immeasurable amounts of knowledge about academia, life and myself, while constantly growing into a version of myself that I love and am very proud of.
A final thought: What I love the most about Washington and Lee, besides the freedom it gave me to discover this version of myself, is the amazing friends that it has put on my path. I am very thankful for everyone around me, and as I leave these people who I now consider a family behind, I know they will always be with me — or whichever version of me I become.