This is Who We Are W&L Alumni Magazine: Summer 2015

Every so often certain events unfold in ways that have an almost mystical meaning.

One day late this spring, Kim and I traveled to Fredericksburg, Va., for the funeral for Charles Rowe '45, '50L. A legendary journalist, Charlie was editor and co-publisher of the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. He would have turned 90 this past May 28 - the day that his grandson, Scott Gould, received his W&L diploma.

At the service and afterwards, Charlie's friends, family and admirers paid tribute to a man of principle, convictions and values. Washington and Lee ideals - and they were indentified precisely that way, as "Washington and Lee ideals," even by those with no direct connection to the University - defined his life. Through his influence, those ideals shaped the community of which he was a part.

As we returned home, I was formulating remarks I would make that evening at the annual Leadership Education & Development (LEAD) Banquet, where we honor the individual and group accomplishments of students, faculty and staff.

Those honorees embody the very ideals that shaped Charlie Rowe's life and distinguished career. They represent our institution's finest qualities and also illustrate why we take pride in our aspirations.

Among W&L's strengths are the quality of our people, the courage to set high standards, and the confidence that we are capable of living up to them. Taken together, the celebration of Charlie Rowe's life and that gathering to celebrate members of our community was, for me, a vivid, powerful reminder of these strengths. This is who we are.

I told the honorees at the LEAD Banquet that we are bound to go through rough patches, the kind that sometimes cause people to wonder whether our strengths endure or are in jeopardy. During such times, some people inevitably question whether our expectations for students are too high these days, or whether the pain of living up to those high standards is too much to bear.

We would prefer to say with pride, "this is who we are" instead of explaining, "this is not who we are." There is a conceit among those of us here now that the challenges we face are unprecedented and that we are quite possibly witnessing at this very moment, after 270 years, the demise of the Honor System or the Greek system or the Speaking Tradition or student self-governance. Such thinking is a conceit.

What we do here at this time and in this special place that has been entrusted to us surely does matter. But, frankly, Washington and Lee is bigger than any of us, and it is our obligation, here and now, to draw from the past and contribute what we can to making W&L of the future even better.

We do leave our mark on this University during our time here. Those honored at that LEAD banquet are testament to that. They embody our highest ideals: their compassion for each other; their care for the community; their courage to make difficult choices; their willingness to be part of a university that expects more of them than any other University, in the classroom and beyond; and their commitment not only to the high ideals that have been passed on to them by those who came before but also to raising those ideals ever higher for those who will follow.

To our devoted alumnus Charles Rowe and to all of those whose lives embody "Washington and Lee ideals," I offer my gratitude and appreciation for always reminding us who we are.

Reprinted from the Summer 2015 edition of the Washington and Lee Alumni Magazine