Dear freshmen, embrace the W&L “you”


Courtesy of First Year Orientation Committee

First-years move in before orientation week. Columnist Ana Dorta writes that they should be prepared to watch themselves change.

Ana Dorta, Staff Writer

Fall of 2019.

From the time I was old enough to even ponder the thought of college and post-high school existence, the fall of 2019 felt like my imminent demise. I quite literally marked my departure for college on my calendar in an unnerving shade of red. I was paralyzed with fear when I thought of leaving the small, intimate town I had known my whole life. Everything and everyone I knew and loved were nestled in the woods-covered, lake-dotted town of Katonah. To leave Katonah and embrace a new home felt like an insurmountable challenge. 

But, like all of my peers, I recognized the need to expand my world past the borders of Westchester County. In my search for a small, highly academic, Division III school, I stumbled on Washington and Lee University. The cherished community of Lexington felt strikingly similar to the place I had called home for so long, and I knew that if I was going to leave home, Washington and Lee was the place I would feel most comfortable. 

Growing up in Katonah, I developed a strong sense of self—a self that was a product of my experiences and the people who surrounded me. I was a dedicated student, a passionate athlete, a willing volunteer, a loyal friend and a loving family member. The identities I had cultivated throughout the course of my childhood were central to my sense of self, and a part of me was fearful that I would lose these identities when I left the place where they were formed. 

We all enter college at an incredibly vulnerable age. Our childhoods often cloak us with a veil of ignorance—and this veil is just waiting to be penetrated once we enter some semblance of the real world. With this said, we are all very willing victims of influence and indoctrination, and the fear of losing your sense of self once thrust in this “real” world is a very legitimate concern. 

Full discretion: this does happen to a certain degree. The freshman I was when I walked through the doors of University Chapel for commencement certainly will not be the same person who shakes President Dudley’s hand at the end of my senior year this upcoming spring. But the influence Washington and Lee has had on me and my consenting indoctrination has not had negative ramifications. Instead, Washington and Lee has helped me cultivate new identities—identities that are far vaster than who I was in high school. 

 And, freshman, I offer you reassurance in this assertion: the identities that you bring with you to college will not be lost. Instead, they will be shifted, matured and you will become more multifaceted as a result of the unparalleled opportunities this university affords its students.

I’ll begin with the most simple of examples. I grew up in a town filled with expansive topography—the thick forests and rolling mountains offered me ample opportunity to hike, explore, and enjoy nature. However, throughout the course of my childhood, rarely did I seize what was sitting right in my backyard. 

When I came to Washington and Lee, I had an awakening of sorts. My first week here was spent backpacking the Appalachian Trail with fellow freshmen, and I quickly realized all that I had been missing by not spending days padding across the underbrush and scaling rocky terrain. Washington and Lee showed me, quite literally from day one, a new side of myself—a side that finds peace in conversation along the Chessie Trail and satisfaction in reaching the summit of House Mountain. 

Similarly, at Washington and Lee, a much more outgoing version of myself emerged. Never in my childhood would anyone have perceived me as a friendly person. But, all of a sudden—perhaps a product of the timeless speaking tradition or more likely a result of the necessity to make new friends in college —I had an aching desire to connect with the people I passed in fleeting interactions and actually get to know them as human beings. 

Initially, this desire was reflected in the relationships I formed with professors. I got to know them as people more than I had with any of my teachers in high school. Later on, during my sophomore year, I acted on this inclination. I created a podcast, which I now air weekly on WLUR, interviewing professors, students and community members. My co-host and I ask our interviewees questions that don’t pertain to their job, vocation or interests as students but rather to the things that make them who they are as people. Had someone told me in high school that I would do something of this nature, I am certain I would have scoffed.

To put it simply, Washington and Lee has changed me. I am not the “me” who walked through University Chapel that humid fall day in September, but I also have not forfeited that “me.” While I have grown, my perspectives have shifted, and my worldview has progressed. I am still a student, an athlete, a volunteer, a friend, and a loving family member. With this said, feeling yourself grow and change can be disconcerting, but I urge you to not run from it,  not to hide from it, but rather, to embrace it. It means Washington and Lee is working. 

Freshman “me’’ was scared of losing “me,” but I can say with all certainty that this fear was unsubstantiated. This university took the “me” that arrived on campus in 2019 and transformed it, prepared it, and bettered it. And to the class of 2026, I am sure that after your four years, you will feel the same.