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W&L Community Celebrates $542.5 Million Campaign Success

More than a thousand students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends gathered in Lexington Oct. 9 to celebrate the conclusion of the second-largest campaign by a liberal arts institution.

Under an expansive tent on Cannan Green and inside a transformed Warner Center, supporters of Washington and Lee toasted the historic success of Honor our Past, Build Our Future: The Campaign for Washington and Lee with a traditional picnic, an open house showcasing campaign accomplishments and a black tie gala, all highlighted by student musical performances, souvenirs, testimonials, a moving campaign-celebration video and fireworks.

The campaign addressed the goals of W&L’s strategic plan, including securing gifts and commitments for the endowment; improving access and affordability for students; increasing faculty compensation; establishing new academic programs and enhancing existing ones that foster learning, engagement and character; and creating a campus for the 21st century, including restoration of the historic Colonnade.

Campaign co-chairs Phil Norwood ’69 and Warren Stephens ’79 welcomed the crowd at the evening gala, recalling the planning days of the campaign in 2008 and the economic conditions that caused them to question the feasibility of the fundraising quest at that time. Stephens recited the headlines of the day: “On first look, the economy looks bad — on second look, it’s worse.” “Worst prices since the ’30s with no end in sight.” “Job losses in 2008: 1.2 million.” “Payrolls shrink by 240,000 in October.” “Unemployment soars.”

But, he said, “With two magnificent gifts in hand from Rupert Johnson (’62) and Gerry Lenfest (’53, ’55L),” their generosity “was an inspiration to me and, I am quite sure, to other trustees and alumni. This is one of the reasons that despite the clouds of that November, we were motivated to go out and ask people to invest in Washington and Lee’s future.

“In the end, our decision to move forward was based on our shared belief in the strength of our university and the uncommon devotion that alumni and friends have for this institution,” Stephens said.

In the gala’s keynote address, W&L President Kenneth P. Ruscio noted that “during a time when most colleges and universities have compromised or even abandoned their missions, when the economic headwinds have forced others to alter their course, we have strengthened and enhanced our deeply held values.

“For me, then, this has been a campaign of affirmation, rather than transformation — of change, to be sure, but the kind of change that preserves what has made us so strong. What has served us so well throughout our history will serve us well into the future.”

Ruscio continued, “Our new endowments for financial aid — the Johnson Program and many others — ensure we will continue to have great students from throughout the country and the world, young men and women who are intellectually bright and strong in character. Our new endowments for faculty compensation and professional development, sparked by the Lenfest Challenge, ensure that we will continue the long tradition of academic excellence, of bringing to Washington and Lee teacher-scholars who can detect a spark of interest in a student and nurture it into a passion. Our tradition of academic innovation carries on in the newly established Mudd Center for Ethics, the Connolly Entrepreneurship Program, the Integrative and Quantitative Center, the Center for Global Learning, the revised Law School curriculum, Spring Term, new internships, summer projects, and the now fully endowed Shepherd Poverty Program.”

But, Ruscio emphasized, the sense of place created by W&L’s buildings creates memories and shapes civil interactions among the university community — “Hillel House and Holekamp Hall, a renovated library, changes in Lewis Hall, a natatorium, a Center for Global Learning, a new Wilson Field and the Duchossois Outdoor Athletic Complex — and of course at the very heart of it all, a restored and renovated, national historic landmark Colonnade, whose architectural qualities of grace and strength so perfectly define the university’s very same qualities. If there is a physical symbol of who we are, one needs look no further than those beautifully symmetric white columns, imposing and dignified, yet welcoming into the halls of learning and friendship.

“I am reminded this evening of the generosity of so many of the thousands of alumni whose lives the university has touched in some profound way, of the parents and friends who developed their own deep affection for this university. I am reminded of that intergenerational bond that defines Washington and Lee. It is perfectly fine for us here today to benefit from the sacrifice of those who came before us, so long as we sacrifice equally for those still to come. Our inheritance from the past becomes our obligation to the future.

“The generosity of this campaign benefits our students. But what we do here matters beyond the boundaries of Lexington and beyond the development of our students. We should never lose sight of the wider effects — our students developing into something greater than themselves, and they will lead their communities and professions to serve the common good,” he said.

Ruscio summed up the campaign’s results: “If there is one message of this historic campaign, it is that in order to preserve the timeless salience of Washington and Lee, we have to always make it better.

“I thank all of you for the sacrifices you have made these past few years. I thank you on behalf of many future generations of students. I thank you for the inspiration your commitments have given to me personally. And, finally, I send my congratulations to all who honored our past by building for our future,” he said.