Thank you, President Ruscio

Conley Hurst

At the end of this month, President Kenneth P. Ruscio’s decade-long tenure as president of Washington and Lee will come to an end.

It will have been ten years of the Ruscio’s in the Lee House, of seeing Miley, their golden retriever, running across the Colonnade, and of hearing President Ruscio’s always insightful addresses at Convocation, Commencement, and the like.

It also will have been ten years of progress and achievement. The list of goals met and projects completed during his tenure is truly remarkable: the $50 million dollar renovation of the Colonnade, the development of the Johnson Scholarship, the construction of new facilities such as the Center for Global Learning, and the creation of new academic programs like the Mudd Center for Ethics, just to name a few.

But these quantifiable achievements paint only an incomplete picture of the man behind it all.

In his time here, President Ruscio has done far more than oversee projects. Rather, by leading according to our motto, “Non incautus future,” or “Not Unmindful of the Future,” he reimagined what W&L could be in the 21st Century.

In everything he did, President Ruscio always attempted to push the W&L community forward. He challenged us to see our community in a new light, to look for ways to improve, to seek out meaningful change and progress. But, at the same time, he reminded us to never let go of what makes W&L special.

I think back to President Ruscio’s oft-mentioned joke about how many W&L alumni it takes to change a light bulb.

“Five,” he would say. “One to change it and four to talk about how great the old one was.”

President Ruscio understands, as many outside

our community probably would not, that as hilariously accurate this joke may be, it reflects a truth about W&L that makes us who we are.

At W&L, we honor our past. We look to those who came before us and to the traditions they established to inform our understanding of the present and guide us through difficult times. Indeed, the traditions of honor, integrity, and civility define our sense of community.

President Ruscio understands, and has articulated better than anyone, that this respect for history and tradition need not digress into nostalgia. We are at our best when we maintain our link to the past while, at the same time, always looking to improve.

As President Ruscio said during the 2015 Commencement Exercises, “To move forward, to improve, to change, is not a rejection of the past. It is the way to honor the past.”

Better than anyone I know of, President Ruscio is able to capture all that W&L represents at its best. He knows how to speak to the school’s strong sense of history and tradition without sounding nostalgic or antiquated. He knows how to speak to a need for progress and change without sounding radical and subversive. He appreciates the time-honored ideals of integrity, civility, and honor. He understands who we are, what makes us great, what makes us not so great, and what we must do to move forward.

Thanks to President Ruscio’s tireless leadership and example, W&L is as healthy as it has ever been. He has helped us find our place in the 21st Century: a community that honors its traditions by always looking to the future.

Thank you, President Ruscio. We wish you well in your future endeavors.

And, in your own words, “Think of us often, just as we will think of you.”