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My W&L: Teddy Corcoran ’16

“All around me, I was exposed to ideas and opinions I had not considered before.”

It is 4:00 in the afternoon on a Thursday as I leave Mattingly Hall. While walking along the sidewalk past the colonnade, I feel incredibly spoiled.

I have just met with Professor Smith for over an hour to discuss my senior Philosophy Thesis and to plan the first publication of the Mudd Journal of Ethics, a student-led initiative on campus. Tomorrow, I am scheduled to meet with Provost Conner to discuss irony in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” — I am lucky enough to be focusing on the novel in my Africana Studies capstone with both Provost Conner and Professor Morel.

As I consider what these meetings and projects represent, the words “ending” and “finish” do not seem appropriate; “culmination” comes to mind instead. Indeed, from the day I began my study here, W&L’s academic programs and faculty have prepared me and so many other students to ultimately venture out and develop exciting new projects of our own.

Before coming to Washington and Lee, I was a student who was filled with excitement, but perhaps a bit green behind the ears. High school had treated me well, though I did not always embrace the best attitude when it came to learning. Schoolwork was something that I had to do, but it was not often something that I wanted to do. I admittedly did not read as much as I should have, did many homework assignments at the last second, and managed to get strong grades primarily based on an ability to write well.

For some reason that I cannot completely explain, my attitude towards school radically changed after coming to W&L. Reading became more interesting. I started looking forward to my classes. I began to love asking questions and discussing issues with professors outside of the classroom (something I previously dreaded).

Reflecting upon this change, a few key factors immediately come to mind: First, I met students who could write, think, and speak significantly better than I could. Many of my friends exhibited work ethics that amazed me, and they participated in extracurricular activities that blew me away. Bit-by-bit, their example began to rub off on me.

Second, my views were challenged in healthy and positive ways. All around me, I was exposed to ideas and opinions I had not considered before. I became fascinated with understanding alternative points of view, utilizing effective strategies for critical thought, and understanding new ways to justify and support my own ever-adapting opinions. Soon, I found an outlet for my newfound interests: the study of ethics.

Finally, the classroom discussions I became a part of were just that: discussions. Never did I feel that my professors were talking at me or my fellow classmates. They talked with us. The depth to which professors engage the text and challenge students, both in the classroom and outside in one-on-one conversations, is one of the strongest and most unique elements of Washington and Lee, and I benefitted a tremendous amount my small class-sizes.

All of these things awakened within me something that I never thought I would have, let alone write about: an insatiable appetite to learn. Several semesters later, I now get to build on my past classes and experiences to create new projects and initiatives that get me excited every day.

I seriously struggle to comprehend how it is I get to do what I currently do. The ethics of satire? A national undergraduate ethics journal? A study of “Invisible Man” with two nationally recognized scholars? It seems too good to be true.

Although these are projects that I am involved in, the big-picture takeaway from all of this this is hardly about me. My projects and experiences here are a testament to the programs from which they were born and the community as a whole. The Philosophy Department, the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics, and the Africana Studies Department all have the faculty and resources to not only let students like myself go out and pursue projects that we love, but also provide us with the just the right amount of structure and support along the way.

It is 4:00 in the afternoon on a Thursday as I leave Mattingly Hall. I stop and shake my head. I really am too lucky.

Hometown: Rochester, NY

Major: Philosophy

Minor: Africana Studies

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Founder and Editor-In-Chief of the Mudd Journal of Ethics and director of the journal’s accompanying conference
  • Member of the Varsity Golf Team
  • Member of Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society
  • Vice-President of Phi Sigma Tau Philosophy Honor Society
  • Captain of the VFIC Ethics Bowl Team
  • Opinions Writer for the Ring-tum Phi

Off-Campus Experiences: Over the summer I interned with Judge Jeffrey Kinder of the Hampden County Court, and this past spring I had six weeks of cultural immersion and Spanish Study in Salamanca, Spain.

Post-Graduation Plans: I plan to take a year to write and gain work experience before pursuing graduate work in law or public policy.

Favorite W&L Memory: My favorite memory comes from a van ride on a golf trip that I went on during my Sophomore year. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard as I did when I was on that trip — our entire team was incredibly relaxed and we seemingly joked around at every point except when we were on the golf course. The best part is that we played really well during the tournament and placed highly.

Favorite Class: Contemporary Moral Problems with Professor Smith

Favorite W&L Activity: I love going out to eat with friends on the last night of the semester — there is a feeling of tremendous satisfaction that comes after completing the final exams and essays of a term, and it is fantastic to be able to share that with friends and celebrate.

What’s your passion? My passion is in the study and debate of ethics. People often have very strong feelings on ethical issues, myself included, and so being able to critically question your own views and learn from others’ perspectives (not just pretending to be interested until you get the chance to state your opinion), is something that I think is incredibly valuable and often overlooked.

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Favorite Lexington Landmark: This isn’t a landmark, but I am convinced that one of the best places to visit in Lexington is Professor DeLaney’s office in Newcomb Hall. It is an absolutely beautiful space, filled to the brim with books, and a great place to meet and talk with one of the best professors on this campus.

What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you? I love comedy. I mean I absolutely I love it. I have even tried (key word: tried) performing stand-up on a couple of occasions this year.

Why did you choose W&L? I chose Washington and Lee because of its small size, the rigor of its academics, and the strong sports program. The fact that the campus is so beautiful certainly played a role as well. I think that W&L also has somewhat of an intangible element — it feels different. It is not just another elite liberal arts school. Between the honor system, the history of both the school and the town, and the friendliness of the faculty and student body, it possesses a very unique quality about it that drew me in.

Why did you choose your major? This is going to sound repetitive, but I chose to become a Philosophy major because I fell in love with the study of ethics. Looking critically at actions, both at the policy and personal level, and having the chance to take a stand and defend it in class is something that I absolutely love.

What professor has inspired you? I don’t like this question! So many professors have seriously impacted and inspired me. If I had to pick one professor, however, it would be Professor Angie Smith of the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics. Six years ago W&L alumni and Emmy-winning television journalist Roger Mudd gave a tremendously generous donation to begin a center for ethics-based programming and scholarship at our school. I have been lucky enough to work with Professor Smith and watch her build the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics from a fantastic idea to a reality, and have just been blown away by how conscientious she is with every aspect and detail of her job. There is no question that the Mudd Center’s success is a reflection of her work ethic and attention to detail. She has also just been so supportive of me and has really helped to push my personal and academic growth. I am lucky to get to work with her as often as I do.

I would be an absolute fool not to mention Professors Tallie, Conner, Crotty, DeLaney, and Pickett for the way in which they have challenged and inspired me as well.

Advice for prospective or first-year students? Go into office hours and get to know your professors!! If you aren’t getting to know your professors and asking questions, you aren’t taking advantage of two of W&L’s biggest assets: its small size and amazing faculty.

What do you wish you’d known before you came to campus? I’m tempted to say “I wish I had known it would go by so fast,” but others have beaten me to the punch. I will say that the more you invest yourself in the community and the more you get involved with activities and initiatives, the more you will enjoy your time here. When I first came to Washington and Lee, I was concerned that I wouldn’t have enough energy or time in the day to study if I got involved with outside activities, and as a result I kept my extracurricular involvement fairly limited. To my pleasant surprise, I’ve found that outside activities have had somewhat of a paradoxical relationship on my studies: the more I get involved in the things that I’m passionate about outside of the classroom (that’s the key-they have to be meaningful and interesting), the more energy I have and the better academic work I produce. I wish I had realized that from the start.

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