Why I Came to W&L
By Tom Morel ‘23,
I am a product of one of the least liberal and most leftist states in the Union. California, a beacon for all that is progressive, fails in one of the most classic liberal ideals: freedom of speech. My state and many of its constituents are wed to its party. They are unwilling to see or consider anything other than blue, for any alternative is deemed racist and bigoted. Too often, the other side is painted in colors of evil. It isn’t based on experience, of course. Experience involves challenging one’s ideas and the possibility of being wrong, concepts that few Americans of any persuasion are willing to accept. In high school, I grew weary of being the in-house conservative and debating alone. More importantly, the slew of epitaphs was a comical and base form of discussion that existed to silence others rather than listen.
During my college search, I resolved to find a new experience from California. I had grown weary of the elitist bubble that permeated the atmosphere at every step. Los Angeles was an amorphous city, never ending in any direction. My high school was no different.
I went to a large, public, urban high school. We had over four thousand students, from which the vast majority were low income. I got a taste of the “minority experience” firsthand, both politically, racially, and culturally. For many Americans, the diversity conversation is a distant and academic one. At Poly High School, it was daily. We were crowded in a school designed for half our size, with classes up to forty-five students.
As I began searching for colleges, I quickly decided I wanted a different experience. Above all, I wanted to try something new: a place that was open to dissent. My research had come with numerous options of varying size and location, from Texas to Massachusetts. W&L appeared early and often on my preemptive lists, meeting most of the objectives that I had set forth. It offered small classes, a beautiful campus, a strong alumni network, and school pride. I took tours of each of the schools, but W&L’s stuck with me the most. I had found a school that I had bonded with.
The night before our tour, we drove around Lexington and by the school. It was ethereal walking in front of a school that I had read so much about. I left W&L impressed, but anxious about the admissions selectivity. It was the summer before my senior year, and I had yet to formally take the ACT. I assumed that it was the last time I’d see W&L.
I applied to W&L in the fall after obsessing over my application and test scores. I finally felt that I was in a competitive position. Nobody is a shoo-in, but at least I felt that I had a fighting chance. Most of my friends hadn’t heard of the school, and mistook it for the thousand other colleges in America with the name “Washington”. Anxious about the admissions process, I looked at other schools and convinced myself that they were equal to W&L. I did not want to set my mind on a school only to be rejected.
A few months before I was accepted, I attended Music Honors Weekend, an event intended to educate perspective students about the university’s music program. I was active in the orchestras and bands at my high school, and looked forward to continuing music in college. I spent several days at W&L during the winter semester, and caught a glimpse of everyday life here. It cemented everything I loved about W&L and reminded me of the school’s many merits. I had truly found a home.
I vividly remember the day I was accepted. That Friday, I did everything I could to distract myself-listen to music, pay attention in class-anything to lure myself away from the angst. I went upstairs, sat, and checked the time. It was 5 o’clock: the moment of truth. I refreshed my portal, and saw the link to view my admissions decision. My heart raced, but I went for it. I closed my eyes, and reopened them to a screen blazing with streamers and confetti. I had been accepted to a school I had assumed would reject me. I reread the letter several times to be sure that it was true. It was a truly elating experience.
As the summer drew by, I began to reflect on why I chose Washington and Lee, a school located 2500 miles from my house in a county that is as Republican as California is Democratic. I believed in finding a school that would more closely follow my values, but would offer a dissenting perspective. I didn’t want a school that would vote in lockstep with me, but one where I could find friends from both sides. Outside of the political arena, I wanted a school with good people: people who were honorable, engaged, and studious.
I firmly believe I have found all three. It is truly an honor to attend one of America’s great universities.