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.