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W&L Provost Welcomes Alumni with a Look at George Washington

Washington and Lee University’s interim provost, Robert A. Strong, used George Washington’s Farewell Address from 1796 as a way to thank alumni returning for W&L’s Alumni Weekend for their continued support of their alma mater.

Strong provided the keynote address for the Opening Assembly of the annual Alumni Weekend, which features an array of reunion programs for returning graduates and their families.

In addition to his remarks in Lee Chapel, the Opening Assembly included the induction of both W&L students and honorary members into the Alpha Chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK), the national leadership society founded at W&L in 1914.


Strong, the William Lyne Wilson Professor of Politics at W&L, told the audience that for 30 years he has begun his classes on American foreign policy by having the students read two documents side by side: the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s Farewell Address.

The students, Strong added, know the declaration but are generally unfamiliar with many of the details of the Farewell Address. “A few students, the ones who paid closest attention in high school civics and history, know that Washington said something about foreign alliance,” he said. “But when they read the whole document, they are invariably surprised. And surprise is one of the best things that happens in the classroom.”

What the students soon discover, Strong said, is that most of the address focuses on the domestic dangers confronting the new republic. “Our greatest enemy, according to George Washington, is not France, or Spain, or Great Britain. It is us. We are quite likely, he predicts in his Farewell Address, to lose our liberties and destroy our democratic institutions, and we are likely to do it because of internal threats,” Strong said, citing the three threats of sectionalism, partisanship and debt.

Strong called the Declaration of Independence and the Farewell Address “bookends of the American Revolution.” While the documents’ authors, Thomas Jefferson (of the declaration) and Washington, were partisans who took very different positions, they were also, in Strong’s view, collaborators who shared mutual admiration.

In particular, they shared support for religious freedom and “saw the value and virtue that could arise in a society that removed impediments to genuine practice.”

But, more germane to the occasion, Strong said that both men supported higher education.

“One built a university in Charlottesville. One made a substantial contribution to a struggling school in Lexington,” he said. “In that respect, they promoted, to quote from the Farewell Address, ‘institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge’.” They were, he added, “like many of the people in this room tonight. Let me thank you for all the support you give to this particular institution for ‘the general diffusion of knowledge.’ You have our sincere appreciation and thanks. But, more importantly, George Washington thanks you.”

ODK inducted three W&L alumni as honorary initiates during the evening’s program:

  • Angela Didier Light, a 1975 School of Law graduate, from Norfolk, Va., who recently retired as president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation;
  • Kenneth W. Newman, a 1971 graduate, from Lexington, who is the former deputy chief of the United States Postal Inspection Service;
  • Dr. John W. Poynter, a 1962 graduate, from Birmingham, Ala., who is an otolaryngologist with ENT Associates of Birmingham.

Additionally, ODK initiated five students: Juniors Ashley H. Barnes, of Annapolis, Md.; Cameron Carlock, of Dallas; Ainsley O. Daigle, of Lafayette, La.; Tamar J. Oostrom, of Richland, Wash.; and Lauren E. Schultz, of Alexandria, Va.; and sophomore Richard Sykes, of Wellesley, Mass.

Daniel Hsu, a sophomore from Richardson, Texas, won the Rupert Latture Award, which ODK presents annually to the sophomore who has demonstrated outstanding leadership potential. Hsu, a neuroscience major, is a member of Phi Eta Sigma and of Beta Beta Beta biology honor society. He is a Bonner Scholar and a member of the Nabors Service League, volunteers with the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic and the Maury River Middle School NEXT Program, and is on the leadership staff of Campus Kitchen.

The James G. Leyburn Award, which ODK presents annually to community or campus leaders who provide exemplary service, went to the Campus Community Coalition, a collaboration among students, neighbors, landlords, law enforcement and the University administration to addresses issues in the Lexington and Rockbridge County community.

News Contact:
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
(540) 458-8459

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