By Nathan Kelly
During my time at W&L I have been honored to serve the student body for three years on the Executive Committee – once as Representative for the Class of 2014, once as Secretary, and this past year as President. My time in these positions was the most rewarding and defining experience of my life, and it has deepened my love for this community and our student body beyond what I thought was possible. I cannot adequately express my gratitude for those who have supported the student body during my tenure and for those who have gone before this generation of students.
Without a doubt, there is something special about W&L. Look no further than the devoted alumni for proof. We students understand the dedication of these alumni because we feel the connection too – a bond to the place that is the Colonnade, to the people who are our peers, and to the ideals that are represented in traditions like the Honor System. We have all spoken with students at other schools that may seem equally as prestigious, but lack the same commitment.
What has made our community so devoted? Why is there such a commitment amongst our peers to ensure future generations have the same meaningful experience? After three years of being on the EC, I believe it is the tradition of student self-governance. Students claim the freedom to lead and govern themselves as they see fit and, most importantly, recognize the weight of responsibility that comes with such a demand.
In my role on the EC, I have interacted with leaders of other student bodies, and I have yet to find another student body that shares this unique demand for freedom and recognition of responsibility. While other systems claim to be “student run,” I have only encountered shadows of autonomy. These are places where faculty and administration involvement is patronizing at best and tyrannical at worst.
As we all know, this unique feature of life at W&L starts with the Honor System. To the student body and the student body alone is the Honor System entrusted. Our decisions in that regard are final. But it does not end there. The student body’s role in university life is fundamentally greater than any other school I have encountered. As students, we are empowered to live our lives and make decisions with unparalleled freedom. W&L is a community that has stood by the belief that we as students are not sheep to be herded, but true partners in our education, empowered to make decisions about the shape of our education and the life of our university. When we see this unique aspect of W&L, it is no wonder that we feel such an unparalleled ownership of this university as students and alumni.
Some of the greatest accomplishments I have seen within the student body have arisen from our freedom as students. Consider just a few of the events from the past three years. When students felt like there was a mental health problem on campus, applications for peer counseling spots shot up to well over 150 students for less than 15 spots. When we saw a gender divide that seemed to contribute to sexual assault, we began upperclassmen brunches and attended bystander training. In the wake of last semester’s tragic accident, students rose up to form a committee to analyze and address patterns of drunk driving. The list could continue but the picture is clear enough. When students recognize their ownership over our institution, we, as students, define its fate.
However, just because those who have come before us have carried the W&L crest forward by taking ownership of their education, doesn’t mean we can sit idly by and enjoy the institution of excellence that has been handed to us. We must realize that to be worthy of the torch that we have been handed, we must carry it forward. If we do not better ourselves, we are failing our motto – “Not unmindful of the future.” I have one message for students as I leave W&L: Care about the future of this institution and be active in shaping it. We have been granted the ability to influence our education in a way that I believe to be unmatched. But the freedom to govern ourselves is more than a freedom, it is a responsibility.
So what should we as students do? A good place to start is the student body constitution, found at ec.wlu.edu. It defines the system of government that the student body has set forward. If you want to shape our future run for office, start a student organization, or apply for a committee appointment. Running for elected office and taking an active role in a student organization – whether it’s a Greek organization or an on-campus organization – is to recognize your responsibility as a torchbearer of W&L. If you feel that something in the university needs altered, go to an EC meeting or talk with an EC representative. The student body has been handed the right to govern itself. By engaging in student life, you carry the torch. Student self-governance is the underpinning of our education. Don’t let it become a hollow promise.