‘You Won’t Want to Leave’ At W&L, a combination of incredible courses, extracurricular opportunities and a warm community made for an experience Will Shannon '19 calls "uniquely mine."
“I believe that Washington and Lee is great because of its students. The school uniquely empowers its students to undertake incredible opportunities and, in true liberal arts fashion, pursue leadership in a variety of ways.”
~ Will Shannon ’19
Hometown: Greensboro, North Carolina
Majors: European History, Global Politics
What factors led you to choose W&L?
Although cliché, I like to say W&L chose me. I applied to Washington and Lee on a whim and did not know anything about the school. Growing up, I always wanted to attend my Dad’s alma mater, but I was waitlisted. At the time I was devastated, but my waitlist offer turned out to be an incredible opportunity.
The summer before my freshman year, I repeatedly told myself that I would only be in Lexington for a semester as I planned to transfer out. Everything changed when I walked on campus for move-in day. I immediately felt the warmth and welcoming spirit of the university proliferated by the Honor System and Speaking Tradition. The student body was visibly happy and enamored by the school they proudly called home. The faculty personally met with us during orientation week over lunch and sincerely offered their time. My random freshman roommate that I met on day one turned out to be one of my best friends, and I felt completely immersed into the W&L culture in only a handful of hours.
After a day, I called my parents and told them that I had found my new home. I walked on campus skeptical, but I unexpectedly fell in love. W&L has not only become a new home for me, but also a new home for my family. My little brother is currently a junior, and my youngest brother just got in and will be a first year in the fall! So, although I did not “choose” W&L originally, I am so grateful for my time at Washington and Lee, and I am so happy to have started a tradition of Shannon boys in Lexington. I truly believe W&L is the best university in the country and still cannot believe my time in Lexington is soon coming to a close.
Why did you decide to major in European history and global politics?
My double major is a product of the liberal arts education provided by W&L. I knew I wanted to pursue history, but I originally thought I would be an American history major. After taking the FDR European history class with Professor Sarah Horowitz, I began to consider switching my focus. After taking Professor Horowitz’s class, I took Professor Michelle Brock’s history of the British Isles, and my conversion to European history was complete. Fortunately, the history major requires plenty of history classes outside of my major focus, and I was still able to explore American history with Professor Barton Myers and Latin American history with Professor Matt Gildner.
My decision to major in global politics is much more convoluted. I knew I wanted to pair history with something, but I did not know what major would best complement it. I decided to take a variety of classes and found myself most interested in a chapter on policy in my economics class. Since my favorite chapter was on policy, I decided to try politics. I took Professor Stu Gray’s political philosophy and Professor Tyler Dickovick’s global politics class and found a subject matter that enthralled me as much as history. I decided a global politics major would best compliment my European history interest and have been extremely happy with my decision.
Have you had any opportunities during your time at W&L to practice those studies outside of regular coursework?
I have been very fortunate to practice my major studies during my summer internships and abroad experiences. After my sophomore year, I went abroad with the London Internship Program. I interned with FTI Consulting with their strategic communications team, and my studies became very relevant. I began work with FTI in the midst of Brexit negotiations and the day after the English voted in a hung Parliament. I saw a completely different structure of government combined with a different culture. If not for my European history and politics studies, I would have been completely lost. However, I was able to find my feet quickly and see politics from a different perspective.
My time in London further endeared me to the United Kingdom. I furthered my education with professors Brock and Jemma Levy’s Spring Term abroad course, which studied Scottish history. We spent a week in Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands, and I felt that I had the opportunity to live the history that I had studied. I am very grateful for the opportunities W&L has provided for me and cannot wait to practice my studies further after graduation!
How did those opportunities impact you and your future career path?
The opportunities to see different political systems also led me to look deeper into the United States. Therefore, I decided to intern in Washington, D.C. last summer. I was fortunate to intern at the White House and see our political system from a different perspective. My continual pursuit of politics solidified my desire to work in D.C. after graduation. I hope to work on the Hill and further my education of politics. Additionally, I believe that contemporary events are founded in historic trends, and I hope to help identify these trends and harmonize the relationship between America’s political future and extraordinary past.
Tell us about your job as head peer counselor at W&L. What path did you take to get there and what has the experience taught you?
My job as head peer counselor has been an incredibly rewarding position. Peer counseling is an incredible program dedicated to making campus a healthier place. While we focus on first years and their transition into college, peer counselors serve as a resource to any students seeking emotional support or an educated friend.
We are trained by the Counseling Center to provide mental health support and help students in a range of situations, including course selection, homesickness and self-harm. My peer counselor during my freshmen year had a visible impact on the hall and never failed to make us smile or laugh. She and a couple other upperclassmen peer counselors were an inspiration for me, and I knew I had to apply. I was fortunate to get a position and serve as a resource for people all across campus.
Last year, I was voted and selected by my fellow peer counselors to rise to head peer counselor. The experience has been tremendously rewarding. I have learned to see W&L from many different perspectives by helping my first years navigate campus and find their place. I have seen the struggle students go through to find their place, but I also saw the amazing perseverance and ambition students show to overcome obstacles and find success.
However, I have learned the most from my fellow peer counselors. As head, I am many times used as a resource to peer counselors in moments of confusion or crisis. I have seen the peer counselors go far out of their way, to sometimes uncomfortable places, to help a student in need. Our faculty advisor/fearless leader, Dr. Kirk Luder, has been an inspiration for us all and trains each of us to be the best resource possible. Each year, he continues to amaze us with his integrity, kindness, and leadership, and the program would not be the same without his investment in us.
Additionally, the generosity within the program is boundless. Although head, I am by no means the best/main peer counselor. The program is great because of the 36 students that dedicate time every week to ensure someone’s day is a little brighter. Peer counselors cannot fix a problem for a student, but rather we can help them find the right resources to overcome their obstacle. Overall, the program taught me the value of personal relationships and a smile. Although life can be hard or uncomfortable, everyone has the power to push through and find happiness again. Many times, a student just needs someone to believe in them, and I am happy to head a program dedicated to believing in W&L students.
You are also an Owings Fellow at W&L. What is an Owings Fellow and how has that position been meaningful?
The Owings Fellowship is a program founded for Cullum Owings ’03 after he was tragically killed in a car accident. In his honor, Owings fellows travel to high schools around the country to share the values of the W&L Honor System. After we share our values, we talk with the students about their honor code and help them to overcome any issues they are facing. In a way, we serve as honor consultants for high school faculty and student leaders. I have been fortunate enough to travel to Daphne, Alabama; Lexington, Kentucky; Greensboro, North Carolina; Houston, Texas; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, throughout my tenure. These trips have further endeared me to the unique culture we built in Lexington.
Moreover, the Honor System at W&L has had a profound impact on my education and my personal development. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve as an ambassador of these values and to help high school students discover the meaningful impact of academic and personal integrity. I believe the fellowship truly impacts the schools that allow us to share in their community, and I am continually amazed by the desire high school students have to establish or improve their own honor system. I am proud of the enduring community of trust we have cultivated at W&L, and I am deeply grateful to be a part of the Owings Fellowship’s mission to export our values so that others can benefit from integrity and honor.
Has anyone on campus served as a mentor to you? How?
I have loved my time at W&L and the extracurricular activities that have made my experience uniquely mine. However, it would not have been possible without the handful of students that have helped me to find my way and discover what is important to me. I believe that Washington and Lee is great because of its students. The school uniquely empowers its students to undertake incredible opportunities and, in true liberal arts fashion, pursue leadership in a variety of ways. Austin Piatt ’17, Mason Grist ’18, Trey Tickner ’16, and Miles Bent ’17 have been mentors for me on campus in helping me find my own way. From watching them, I learned to throw myself into a variety of roles while balancing life as a college student. I invested in many of the same extracurriculars as them and walked a similar path.
To me, these guys represented what it meant to be a W&L student. They gave generously to the school and its students, embraced campus from many different perspectives, and made every year on campus worthwhile. They taught me that being busy was not a bad thing. It might be exhausting, but the lessons and rewards from those efforts are far worth the time. Lastly, they taught me the importance of investing in people. The people around us have the most profound impact on our lives, and I am grateful that these guys were willing to invest in me. As I graduate, I hope that there is someone I have impacted who will look at me the same way I saw them—an inspiration, a role model and a friend.
What would you say to a prospective W&L student who is deciding whether to apply or attend here?
Washington and Lee is a special place filled with amazing people. Although it is a small school tucked away in the mountains, W&L has something for everyone. The small class sizes combined with our Honor System create a truly unique environment. There is a reason W&L students and alumni are obsessed with the school and have a profoundly deep emotional connection with Lexington. I recommend that everyone come visit the school and spend a day on campus and around downtown Lexington. Experience the life of a W&L student, and watch the visible happiness and warmth of campus. Taking a tour is one thing, but immersing yourself in the culture is a completely different phenomenon. The school will naturally embrace you, and the students will inspire you. Therefore, come experience W&L. Once you do, you won’t want to leave.
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More About Will
What other extracurriculars have you been a part of at W&L?
Peer Counselor, Owings Fellowship, University Ambassador, Kathekon, Lead Class Agent, White Book Review Committee, coached a local travel soccer team, Outing Club, and App Adventure Leader
Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Blue Sky, Chicken Salad Sandwich on Focaccia
What do you wish you’d known before you came to campus?
Do an Appalachian Adventure pre-orientation trip. Even if you aren’t super into the outdoors, the experience is more than worth it and will make the transition to college significantly easier.
What has been your favorite course at W&L so far?
My favorite class is Age of the Witch Hunts, which was a history class with Professor Michelle Brock. It was a super cool class and crazy subject material.
Favorite W&L memory?
I have been sitting here for 20 minutes trying to find one moment, but I can’t. There are too many awesome moments.
Favorite W&L event?
W&L Parents Weekend by far. It is my favorite weekend of the year because nothing is more fun than sharing my W&L experience with my parents and brothers. I am so thrilled that my littlest brother will be a freshman in the fall because that means I get four more parents’ weekends!
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I am a total nerd about superhero movies. I always go to the midnight premiere for them.