Which university has hosted a Mock Convention since 1908 and has accurately predicted 20 out of 26 times who the non-incumbent political party will nominate as their candidate for President of the United States? Washington & Lee University hosts a Mock Convention every four years, similar to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, that has included famous speakers such as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Jesse Jackson.
Washington and Lee University (W&L) is the ninth-oldest school in America. Niche ranked W&L #9 in Best Small Colleges in American and #9 in Best Liberal Arts Colleges in America. The campus is located in historic Lexington, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains that provide an abundance of opportunities to explore nature. Money magazine ranked Washington & Lee as one of the ten best colleges for people who love the outdoors. The most popular campus club is the Outing Club that provides students with the opportunities to rock climb, mountain bike, raft, ski, and fly fish among many other outdoor activities. Lexington consistently ranks as one of the best small towns, hosting old-fashioned parades, festivals, and outdoor music venues. This quaint, historic town is also home to mom-and-pop shops, farmer’s markets, and artisan coffee shops.
Students at W&L enjoy a unique three-term calendar with two 12-week terms in the fall and winter, and then a 4-week term in the spring. The spring term courses are non-traditional classes where students explore one topic in-depth, and the classes are designed for students to have an immersive learning experience, such as studying abroad, or traveling domestically. Washington and Lee has an acceptance rate of 19% and there are 1,860 undergraduates, including Teddy Jacobsen (’20), who shares his freshman experience at this small, private liberal arts school.
Please describe Washington and Lee, and what attributes attracted you to the college.
Teddy: Washington and Lee is a small school, like Casady. There are only about 450 students in my freshmen class. The school is in the quaint town of Lexington, but still within driving distance of places like D.C. The reputation and age of the school were big selling points for me. Just in my first term, I have met so many students, teachers, and alumni that all have similar connections and attributes that will serve me well for my life at W&L and beyond.
What is your major and minor, and what do you want to be after completing your education?
Teddy: I am currently undecided on a major, but I plan to minor in film. I hope to find a major that can pair well with the film minor. As of now, I would like to explore some profession in the film industry once I graduate.
What extracurricular clubs and activities are you involved in, and which one has had the biggest impact on you?
Teddy: So far, I have been involved with the technical side of theater production and have worked on two productions at W&L. I also plan to rush a fraternity this coming term. I competed in varsity baseball this past fall, but have decided to stop from here on out. I think baseball definitely had the biggest initial impact on me because I’ve met so many great students that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I think that experience has made my transition into college life a lot easier.
What does your typical week look like?
Teddy: Every weekday, I usually have two classes. Some of my classes are strictly online, some are in-person, and some are a hybrid of the two. I like to do online classes in my dorm room as long as I’m not disrupting my roommate. After my classes, I either go across the bridge to the natatorium to swim, or take the shorter walk to the gym to work out. I always try to eat with a couple of other students in my hall every day. We usually grab food from the dining hall and take it back to our living room to eat and watch whatever game is on TV. On the weekends, I really enjoy exploring the hiking trails and beautiful nature just outside of campus when I can borrow someone’s car. Usually in the evenings, my friends and I would hang out with some older fraternity guys and get to know them, which is just a part of W&L’s “informal” rush in a normal, non-Covid year.
What has been the greatest challenge and the biggest surprise for you while at college?
Teddy: The greatest challenge and probably also the biggest surprise for me has been finding productive and engaging things to do in all the free time I have. With Covid, a lot of the normal activities have either not been happening or have been limited, so I’m looking forward to exploring the campus once things go back to normal. However, I feel like I’ve been able to learn how to be independent and manage my own time in a healthy way.
What do you enjoy most about Washington and Lee?
Teddy: My favorite part of W&L has to be the people. I am the only Oklahoman in my entire class, and I’ve only recently met other Oklahoma kids in the grades above me. In spite of that fact, I’ve already spent a few days in Tulsa with an older W&L friend that I just met this past October. I’ve met tons of students who went to other SPC schools and we immediately shared a connection because of that similarity. I’ve also met kids from all over the country that I would’ve never met otherwise. I think W&L is great for connecting with other students and forming close relationships with teachers because of its smaller size. It definitely reminds me of Casady in that regard.
What do students at Washington and Lee do on the weekends?
Teddy: While the social scene isn’t strictly controlled by Greek life, a majority of the students at W&L are affiliated with a fraternity or sorority. That seems daunting at first, but in my experience, everybody is inclusive and welcoming. The way many put it is: Greek life at W&L is such a big deal that it’s not a big deal. Everyone is invited to almost everything and loves to meet new and different people. Most students stay on campus during the weekends, and W&L typically has a ton of activities to do all the time. However, Charlottesville and UVA are only about an hour away if you ever want to get away for a weekend.
What are some fun traditions at Washington and Lee?
Teddy: The most well-known tradition that I’ve been able to experience is W&L’s speaking tradition. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but in essence, whenever you pass anyone on campus, whether you know them or not, it’s customary to share a greeting of some sort. Another fun tradition will happen in the spring of my senior year, which I plan to be involved in. The school puts on a Mock Convention every four years for each presidential primary election. Starting in 1908, the student body predicts the Republican & Democratic nominees for the upcoming Presidential Election. Since its formation, W&L has been correct in their predictions 20 out of 26 times, with only two incorrect predictions since 1948.
If you were giving a tour of the Washington and Lee campus, where would you go?
Teddy: First, I’d take the tour through my dorm, named Graham-Lees (or “Glees” for short), which is one of the two dorms freshmen can live in. From there, most of the academic buildings are within five minutes walking distance. Each building has so much history and significance, but probably the most well-known and, in my opinion, the prettiest structure is the Colonnade that faces the school’s gorgeous chapel with a sprawling lawn in between. The white columns and red brick make for a great view when hanging out on the lawn. From there, we’d head back to Glees and stop by our huge brand-new fitness center and gymnasium. Finally, right beside the gym, we’d walk down to the bridge that connects the rest of the campus to the football stadium. As far as I can tell, this bridge has a multitude of names, including, but not limited to, “The Class Memorial Bridge” and “The Cadaver Bridge” (which is an entirely different story, but I digress). Along that bridge, you can see all the beautiful sorority houses, tennis courts below the bridge, and junior housing in the distance.
What was the most important lesson you learned as a student at Casady?
Teddy: The most important lesson I learned as a student at Casady is a little basic and cliché, but can be applied to so many things. Find the things you enjoy and exhaust every resource you have to explore and develop those things. Casady has so many things to be involved in, and everyone wants to see you succeed. Whether it be sports, arts, leadership, etc., expanding your circle of connections and relationships can create such positive outcomes. Try as much as you can because you never know where it will take you.
What advice do you have for Upper Division students who are in the midst of the college application process?
Teddy: For the seniors in the midst of college applications and acceptances, I believe that everyone will end up where they’re supposed to be. I know it’s tough to not stress about it, but you can only control what you can control. Try your best to enjoy the time you have left with all the wonderful people around you because time really flies your senior year.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the Casady community?
Teddy: I really appreciate everything everyone did to help me get to where I am today. I owe a lot to Casady and the people who make it so special.
Washington and Lee was founded in 1749 and originally named Augusta Academy until it was renamed Liberty Hall Academy in 1776. When the campus was in financial trouble in 1796, President George Washington donated 100 shares of stock to the James River Canal Company, which continues to contribute to the university’s operating budget today. With Washington’s gift, the school was renamed in his honor, and in 1870 the school was renamed to Washington and Lee to also honor Robert E. Lee who served as president of the university for five years following Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War. The name of the university is once again being debated. In July 2020, 79% of the faculty voted for the removal of Robert E. Lee from the name of the University, and some wanted to remove George Washington’s name, as well. Alumni have expressed support for and against the name change.
Students at W&L are committed to living lives of integrity and adhere to a student-run honor system, similar to Casady’s honor code, where students pledge not to lie, cheat, or steal. For over a century, students have enjoyed the annual black tie ball appropriately named the Fancy Dress Ball. A quarter of W&L students are athletes who compete at the NCAA Division III level and play in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. Their mascot is the Generals, and their school colors are blue and white.
Greek life is very popular at W&L, with 80% of students pledging to one of thirteen fraternities or one of eight sororities. Beginning sophomore year, students can live in their sorority or fraternity chapter house. Freshmen are required to live on campus in one of four residence halls. Sophomores and juniors are also required to live on campus, but may choose where, and seniors typically live off-campus, as there is a limited amount of on-campus rooms available for seniors. Freshmen Pre-Orientation offers five different programs: Volunteer Venture with local needs, Sustainability with scientific investigations, Archaeology involving a field excavation, Freedom Ride involving a bus journey to examine racial injustice in southern cities, or Appalachian Adventure involving a four-night hike on the nearby Appalachian Trail.
Fun Facts: Washington and Lee has several secret societies over a century old, including the Cadaver Society, the Mongolian Minks, and the Sigma Society. Go Generals!