A year in review: Washington and Lee back and better than ever

This year, students finally felt a sense of normalcy after a year-and-a-half of restrictions byline:

Evan Owan


Think of how refreshing it tastes to drink a glass of cold water when you feel dehydrated. Many Washington and Lee students would say that the return to in-person social events and classes has provided similar satisfaction after being deprived by COVID-19 of a normal college experience for so long.


The sudden and radical shutdown in March 2020, followed by a year of masks and isolating rules, left students desperate to experience normal college life. W&L, like most upper-level liberal arts colleges, had an indoor mask requirement, mostly ZOOM classes, and few in-person events.


The undergrad fully vaccinated rate of 98.3% and comparatively lower number of cases in Rockbridge County has allowed for the current academic year to be a return to normal operations on campus. The multi-day Appalachian Adventure Pre-Orientation trips were able to backpack their way through multiple of the surrounding trails. In 2020, the trip was not overnight and was restricted to the back campus trails. For students leading the trip, the return to the normal format this Fall was especially welcome.


“Being an App Adventure trip leader is one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences at W&L, especially post-covid,” said William Daniels, an App. Adventure trip leader. “The opportunity to meet a group of first-years and spend a week together hiking, laughing, and sight-seeing is something I’ll never forget.”


The appreciation for a return to business as usual on campus extended to recent alumni as well. The Class of 2020 was able to finally have an in-person graduation, on the Front Lawn between the colonnade and University Chapel, on Sept. 11. Young Alumni Weekend was also held on Oct. 22-24. It offered the opportunity for alumni to enjoy time together with friends who they may have been separated from since graduation.


“Young alumni weekend was a blast. It was great to catch up with my classmates and pretend like we were in college again for a couple days,” said 2020 graduate Max Lehman, on his appreciation for being able to attend.


Last year, a virtual Parents Weekend was held instead of the traditional one held in-person. Most students did not see their parents for three months consequently. The return of the normal format to the event allowed for students and parents to enjoy the W&L experience together for the weekend of Oct. 1-3. Parents were able to interact with their children in ways such as accompanying them to class and attending functions hosted by their Greek organization.


“Parents weekend this year was that much more meaningful because my parents could see how much I’ve evolved academically and socially,” said Colin Legg, a junior from the Atlanta area. “On their visit, they saw the lively campus they saw my freshman year.”


One of the biggest effects of the pandemic was on athletics. Sports teams such as football had a whole season cancelled. Others were forced to play only in-state opponents and spectators were prohibited. The opportunity to play without restrictions this year has led athletes to feel thankful for this chance.


Coming back from COVID has made everyone more appreciative of the opportunity we have to play baseball,” said Chapin Bassi, an infielder on the baseball team. “The best part of removing COVID protocols has allowed our parents and fans to watch the games. Family is a big aspect of our team, and it is wonderful to share those moments with them.” 


For student organizations who seek to bring in guest speakers and outside performers, last year’s restrictions made it especially difficult. Prominent figures such as Jeb Bush and Andrew Yang spoke, but over ZOOM. This year students have been able to gather in masses to watch in-person shows and speakers. Virtually every seat was taken in University Chapel when the Contact Committee hosted “Moneyball” star Billy Beane. Last week, the Generals Activities Board brought in B.O.B. to Evans Hall where he performed songs such as “Nothin’ On You” for a packed crowd of students.


“The concert symbolizes a return to normal and its especially exciting to bring in a well-known figure like B.O.B.,” said Sarah Houston ’23, a member of G.A.B.


Fancy Dress, a W&L tradition, was cancelled the previous two years. Last Saturday, the student body was able to celebrate and attend the 112th Fancy Dress, themed “Night at the Museum.” For those on the committee planning the event, it felt rewarding to see all the planning finally come to fruition.


“Working all year, last year, to plan a virtual Fancy Dress was very disappointing, and now we got to have it in person like a normal year,” said Committee member Sarah Footer ’24. 


The most meaningful aspect of the return to normal life on campus is not merely the return of the events, classes, and games themselves. It is the social interactions and understanding afforded by these functions.

The personal connections formed between students, faculty, and staff highlight the strength of W&L,” said Dean Jason Rodocker.