Archive for June, 2011

A Politico to Watch

Congratulations to Justine Sessions, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2005. National Journal, an online publication that covers the political scene in Washington D.C., has named her to its list of “Hill People” to watch. Justine is the majority communications director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Justine Sessions ’05

As she tells National Journal, life in the nation’s capitol first intrigued her when she was a W&L student, studying in Washington on her way to a B.A. in politics. After graduation, she spent a few years working for former Sen. Christopher Dodd, D.-Conn, as his deputy press secretary and press secretary. At the time, he was chairing the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, running for president and dealing with legislation to stop the impending financial crisis.

She remembers one particular moment during that turbulent time.  “I’m standing outside with what felt like, and probably was, the entire press corps,” she told National Journal. “You feel the power of the moment, and you realize what your boss and others are discussing has a profound impact on the future of the country.”

After her term with Dodd, Justine directed communications for the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of Ned Lamont in Connecticut, her home state. She started her current post last September.

Duffee ’83 in Sudan

If you are in Lexington today (Wednesday, June 29), you can hear Larry Duffee, a 1983 graduate of Washington and Lee, give a presentation about Sudan.

Larry Duffee '83 and a Sudanese child

Larry, who lives in Fredericksburg, Va., sold his food-supply business to become an Episcopal missionary. He has been stationed at the headquarters of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, in Juba, since May of last year. He’s backed by the Diocese of Virginia and the church’s missionary program. He works to build peace, to help develop the finances of the Sudanese church and to maintain the church’s international partnerships. Larry plans to be in Sudan on July 9, when it becomes two countries.

And he’s been blogging about his experiences. Read his latest entry, “The Night Train to Mombasa,” at Duffman in Africa. “When I turned out the light around 10pm to go to bed the outside world became alive thanks to the three-quarters full moon which shone brightly upon the Kenyan landscape,” he writes of his journey. “I dropped the screen covering the window and pressed my face to the edge of the darkness, standing a full hour watching Kenya pass by.”

Larry’s talk, which is open to the public, takes place at noon today in the parish hall of the R.E. Lee Memorial Church. Please call the church beforehand at (540) 463-4981 so they’ll have enough chairs. You can bring your lunch, and the church will provide iced tea, coffee and dessert.

Alumna’s First Novel Draws Raves

Rebecca Makkai ’99

Sharp-eyed readers of the July issue of  “O: The Oprah Magazine” may notice a familiar name in the magazine’s summer reading list: Rebecca Makkai. Don’t recognize her? By the end of the summer, you probably will, as this 1999 graduate of Washington and Lee University is poised to make a big name for herself with her first novel, “The Borrower” (Viking Press), out this month.
It’s the story of a children’s librarian named Lucy Hull and her favorite reader, Ian Drake, age 10, who run away together. Rebecca’s book has drawn praise from “Publisher’s Weekly” (“fast-paced, suspenseful, and thoroughly enjoyable”), “Good Housekeeping” (“delightfully quirky”), “Booklist” (“splendid first novel”) and The New York Times (“surprisingly moving”), among other publications.

Rebecca, a Montessori school teacher who lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two daughters, has contributed short stories to such literary journals as our own “Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review” (which she calls one of “a few [journals] that are near and dear to my heart”) and to such compilations as The Best American Short Stories.

“Her first story, at the age of three, was printed on the side of a cardboard box and told from the viewpoint of her stuffed Smurf doll,” as she writes in her witty website. The site also contains news of her summer book tour, a YouTube video of Rebecca giving book recommendations to young readers, and other material well worth a click.

And now, here she is, with her first novel available in print, audio and e-books. There’ll be no going back to the side of the cardboard box for Rebecca Makkai.

Art That’s All in the Family

While she was a student, Julia Pleasants, of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2008, belonged to the dance club and helped found the W&L Repertory Dance Company. An English major, she recently learned the business side of the dance world when she did a press and marketing internship with the famed Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, in Massachusetts. That experience is coming in handy this summer, as Julia is helping her father, the large-scale installation artist Craig Pleasants, with publicity for his current project: a small, inexpensive, eco-friendly house built from a kit. It’s called the Octagonal Living Unit, OLU for short. “I have been doing the majority of the marketing for the OLU,” she reports.

The Octagonal Living Unit (OLU)

Julia has been living with one form or another of the OLU for quite a while. “There was actually a half-scale version of the kit house assembled in my parents’ living room for a short period of time,” Julia tells us, “and I helped with the de-construction of that one, which took all of two hours. I’m sure that if he starts to manufacture a lot of these, I will be involved in the construction
somehow. My mom, my two sisters and I have been helping to assemble and transport his artwork for as long as I can remember.” The Pleasantses live in Amherst, Va.

You can watch a video and learn more about the OLU on the Kickstarter website. Julia makes an appearance at the 1:00 mark; she’s reading inside a sculpture that lived in their backyard for a time. “I am also the person who pointed the camera at our dog, Scout, at the very end,” she says. If you’re so inclined, you can also help underwrite the OLU prototype.

When she’s not doing parental p.r., Julia works at the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, N.C. She also volunteers at the Community Arts Center there and teaches dance.

Visitors to W&L’s Staniar Gallery next spring will be able to learn even more about her father’s pursuits. From April 23 to May 25, 2012, Craig Pleasants will present an exhibition called “Volume,” comprising works based on what he calls “aesthetics of necessity.” The show will be his second at W&L; the first was in October 1998 in duPont Hall.

A Journalist’s Homecoming

Kat Greene '08

Sometimes you have to leave a place–or a job–to discover that’s where you are meant to be. At least that’s what journalist Kat Greene, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2008, recently discovered.

Kat always wanted to be a reporter. As she wrote last fall on her Facebook page, which the Talking Biz News website quoted, “When I was very young and playing house, I would go off to ‘work,’ where I typed away at a broken old typewriter. Writing stories came through me, as though I didn’t do it intentionally. I felt called to it.” It’s no surprise that at W&L, she majored in journalism and mass communications.

After graduation, she landed posts at Dow Jones Newswires, Institutional Investor and the (Phoenix) Arizona Republic. Writing about business news for the Phoenix paper, however, she found herself dissatisfied. What had once been a dream field where she could gain the experience to be a managing editor now seemed to have changed—and not for the better—along with the entire news business. And so she left.

“Now I was doing the one thing no one would have predicted,” she wrote, “and I felt liberated.”

Kat returned home, to the Atlanta area. And now she has a new job that seems familiar—as the banking and finance reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “I decided that I wasn’t looking for a job or a career path—I was looking for a home,” she told Talking Biz News. “I hope that’s what I’ve found here, back in my literal hometown, but also at this close-knit company.”

Alum Takes the Pulpit at Historic Church

The Rev. Will Jones

The Rev. Will Jones

A historic Presbyterian church in Germantown, Tenn., has a new pastor, and he’s a W&L alumnus. The Rev. William Gray Jones, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1992, now leads the 800-plus members of Germantown Presbyterian Church, which dates to 1838. Its Evans Chapel, built in 1851, is Germantown’s oldest public building.

“It was clear he was special,” said a member of the church’s nominating committee in a press release about Will’s appointment. “He became the standard upon which we compared all the other candidates.”

Will, who was born and grew up in Memphis, has a B.A. in history from W&L. He earned his M. Div. from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1996 and his Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2006. He’s been the youth director at Idlewild Presbyterian Church, in Memphis, and at Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, in Atlanta.

In addition to studying in Scotland, he served as associate pastor of a church there, St. Michael’s Parish Church, in Linlithgow. Most recently, Will was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Brownsville, Tenn.

Will is a teacher as well, with current stints as an adjunct professor in the Honors Program at the University of Memphis and in the department of philosophy and religion at the University of Mississippi.

Will and his wife, Susan, have three children: Lelia, Mary and Grace.