Shepherd Program alumni tell students to follow passion, make impact

Five alumni spoke on the “Living the Shepherd Dream” panel during Young Alumni Weekend on Oct. 25


Leah Gose, ’15, is a fourth-year doctoral student in sociology at Harvard University. Photo by Lilah Kimble, ’23.

Sydney Lee

Alum Mason Grist, ’18, told a room of Washington and Lee students something they don’t hear often: don’t be afraid to break the mold.

The two-time Executive Committee president and religion and economics double major with a poverty and human capability studies minor spoke on the “Living the Shepherd Dream” panel during Young Alumni Weekend on Friday, Oct 25.

The event held in Early Fielding and Mattingly House featured two panels, “Futures in Health” and “Personalized Paths,” followed by an open house. Interested students also met with graduates one-on-one for career advice.

The Shepherd Program boasts a mission that seeks to “understand and address poverty in ways that respect the dignity of every person,” according to the university website. Its poverty and human capabilities studies program weaves together academic and co-curricular service work to provide opportunities for students to engage with the Lexington and broader community, better understand the causes and effects of poverty and pursue career paths with social impact. 

Four other recent graduates who majored in poverty and human capability stuides spoke on the “Personalized Paths” panel. Dane Boston, ‘08, Leah Gose, ‘15, and Angelica Tillander, ‘14, joined Grist in sharing their career experiences and how to navigate both passion and impact. 

During the panel, Shepherd Program director Howard Pickett framed the discussion around that question. 

“Am I going to do what I am passionate about and make a significant impact on society, or am I going to get paid and eat?” Pickett asked. “Personally, I suspect that that’s a false choice.” 

Grist currently works as the director of the higher education sector of Hanover Research, an education consulting firm, in Washington, D.C. He works directly with K-12 school districts on a technical college practice team and said he one day hopes to attend law school. 

“I felt that impulse to fill up and do as much here as I can so some random employer will take interest in me,” Grist said. “But that’s not how it goes. There are a lot of different ways to go.”

Boston majored in English while at Washington and Lee University, went on to attend Yale Divinity School and now works as an ordained priest at Christ Episcopal Church in Cooperstown, New York. He gave credit to open-mindedness for his success.

“Sometimes it finds you. It’s the openness to finding something that you weren’t looking for,” Boston said. “It really does figure itself out.”

Gose was a double major in sociology and German at Washington and Lee. She’s currently in her fourth year as a Harvard University doctoral student in sociology, a shift from her initial career plans as a pre-med first-year at Washington and Lee.

“I didn’t like all the science classes because I was always curious about the problems,” Gose said. “I took POV-103 and realized that there are other ways to solve the problems. I started pursuing things that interested me. I truly believe that here you can study what you want and you will find a path.”

Tillander majored in history and politics and was a Bonner Scholar and member of Campus Kitchen leadership. After graduating from Washington and Lee University, she went straight into law school at Columbia University and earned her J.D.

“I decided to be a lawyer in fourth grade,” Tillander said. “I got here and I volunteered lots of places, and discovered that I wanted to be a lawyer but I also wanted to do all these other things.”

Current Washington and Lee students listen to the “Living the Shepherd Dream” panel. Photo by Lilah Kimble, ’23.

Pickett asked the panelists if they would’ve changed anything about their time at Washington and Lee.

Most said they would sleep more. Others said that they wished they hadn’t stayed so busy with so many commitments. But the panelists agreed that pursuing what excited them, the classes that kept them up at night and combining their passions for community was worth it. 

“I would urge you to consider whether you are happy,” Boston said. “You have to be happy with what you’re doing because life is short. If Mom and Dad and friends tell you not to do it, then they are wrong. Part of the maturity you’re gaining now is to tell those people no, that you know what brings you joy.”

Gose added that the university is full of people who will help students find direction.

“You have to be confident in yourself, but know that there are also people here to help you,” Gose said.

Grist added that it isn’t necessary to minor in poverty and human capability studies to engage with the Shepherd Program. Tillander agreed.

“Shepherd underpins everything I’ve thought about and everything that I’ve done,” Tillander said. “You take your Shepherd with you.”