The Class of 2017 received a primer in existentialism, along with four pieces of advice, from President William C. Dudley.
“Existentialism gets its name from the fact that our
existence (the simple fact we are here) precedes our essence
(what we are),” Dudley said in his address on May 25. “We
make ourselves into who and what we are over time, and
Dudley also offered four pieces of advice: do what
you love and work your tail off; don’t be afraid to change
course; continue your liberal arts education; embrace your
“Learn things beyond the bounds of your professional
concerns,” he said. “Expand your horizons and avoid
becoming too narrowly focused. Seek out experience that
transcends your current limitations. Doing so will enrich
your life, and it will also sustain your success in a world that
is constantly changing.
“Ignorance is bliss,” he added. “Without sufficient
appreciation of our own ignorance, we cease to be curious,
we cease to be receptive to new ideas, and we cease to be
respectful of other people. Awareness of our own ignorance
is a virtue. Knowing that we do not know everything makes
us humble, patient, open to compromise and collaboration.
You may have noticed that these qualities are in short supply.
Embracing your ignorance is good for you, and it’s good for
Wilson Miller (opposite page, top right), an economics
and studio art double major, spoke on behalf of the Class
of 2017. Miller was a member of the Executive Committee
of the student body for four years, serving as class
representative, secretary, vice president and, most recently,
president. He challenged his classmates to take two of
Washington and Lee’s most venerated traditions — the
Honor System and the Speaking Tradition — with them
wherever they go.
“Life at W&L exists at the unique intersection of
its renowned Honor System, abundant opportunity, the
Speaking Tradition and legacy,” said Miller. “These are the
great attributes of a Washington and Lee education, and our
class will draw from its days in Lexington to make W&L a
part of our future communities.
“I challenge every one of us to apply a smile and
friendly word in whatever community we might find
ourselves,” Miller continued. “While this may not do much
on crowded subway rides or busy city sidewalks, I expect
your neighborhoods and workplaces will come closer
together through a speaking tradition of their own.”
For the first time in its history, W&L recognized five
students as valedictorians, each with a perfect 4.0 grade-
point average: Brooke Donnelly, Stephen Mitchell, Zoe
Ottaviani, Zach Taylor and Pasquale Toscano.
On May 24, the Baccalaureate audience heard from
Rebecca Linder Blachly (opposite page, bottom left), the
director of the Office of Government Relations for the
Episcopal Church, where she oversees the church’s advocacy
on national and international policy issues.
The winners of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award,
Conley Hurst ’ 17 and Kayla Sylvester ’ 17, gave readings.
The faculty selected the duo for the award because they
best demonstrate high ideals of living, spiritual qualities and
generous service to others. They are pictured below with
(l. to r.) Scott Dittman, registrar; Sidney Evans, dean of students
and vice president of student affairs; and President Dudley.
W&L’s 230th Commencement
Celebrates 443 Graduates
BY DREWRY ATKINS SACKETT ’93