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University of Mary Washington students chalk up some of their aspirations

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Senior Nathan Bemis writes on a chalkboard placed on campus by the Center for Honor, Leadership and Service to encourage students to think creatively about their goals. / Photos by Autumn Parry

Senior Nathan Bemis writes on a chalkboard placed on campus by the Center for Honor, Leadership and Service to encourage students to think creatively about their goals. / Photos by Autumn Parry

Before University of Mary Washington students graduate, they want to touch president Rick Hurley’s mustache, win an NCAA championship, come out, pass abstract algebra, streak around the track or pet a squirrel, among other goals.

That’s according to writings on the campus’ new fixture, a series of 8-foot-tall chalkboards asking such questions as “Before I graduate, I will . . . ,” and “Honor means to me . . . ”

The project, sponsored by the school’s Center for Honor, Leadership and Service, seeks to help students think creatively about those ideas and their goals.

Under the heading that reads,

“I make the world a better place by . . . ,” freshman Sharel Cooper wrote in blue chalk, “Humanitarian . . . next Oprah.”

“She does a lot for my people, for everyone really,” Cooper said. “She donates and is well-rounded. I think I could be the next Oprah.”

Sophomores Christina Slesinger, 19, and Michaela Deasis, 20, write on one of the chalkboards temporarily gracing the UMW campus.

Sophomores Christina Slesinger, 19, and Michaela Deasis, 20, write on one of the chalkboards temporarily gracing the UMW campus.

Cooper double majors in computer science and international affairs and is a member of the campus’ ROTC program.

“I think this is great,” she said about the boards. “You see everyone’s dreams. It’s inspiring.”

The four boards, which are

also titled “Leadership means to me . . . ,” were nearly full with comments by the afternoon of March 11 after being up for only a day.

The boards are a take-off of artist Candy Chang’s chalkboard project in New Orleans.

Chang, who uses public spaces to engage people, came up with the idea five years ago after a sudden death forced her to re-evaluate what mattered most.

Max Glover, a sophomore at James Monroe High School, initiated a similar project in Fredericksburg in 2013 after watching a video of Chang.

The UMW project is meant to force a similar re-evaluation.

To be a leader, UMW students said, is to be yourself, put other people before yourself and lead by example.

According to the board, UMW students are changing the world by modeling themselves after Beyoncé and performing service work.

And honor means being someone their future kids will be proud of and trusting in the school’s honor code.

Chelsea Kopf, a student employee in the center, is one of the students behind the project.

“We want people to know more about the center,” she said, “what we stand for and what we do.”

The board will be up through March 21.

“I want students to see what the student body is passionate about and share ideas,” Kopf said.

Kopf wrote a couple of responses on the board, as well.

Under the leadership heading, she wrote, “Community leaders will do what is best for the team at all costs.”

David Rettinger, executive director of the school’s Center for Honor, Leadership and Service and professor of psychology, said the responses will be used as the basis for a social media campaign promoting academic integrity, leadership and giving back to our community through service.

The center also is going to create a time-lapse video of people actually using the boards for similar purposes.

“Overall, the goal is to to help our students and the community remember the value in contributing to the greater good,” he said “We have all been impressed by the breadth, thoughtfulness and genuine affection these boards have elicited.”

The center is involved with other projects across campus and beyond, with similar goals, according to Rettinger.

The center sponsors a leadership colloquium each fall, a celebration of UMW’s honor system, awards for faculty and staff, and numerous educational and social programs, all aimed at helping students turn their passion into community-focused action, Rettinger said.

The Center for Honor, Leadership and Service was created in 2012 to “deepen student learning through best practices, educational competency and skill sets for leadership and service grounded in the core value of honor.”

The center develops new programs and coursework that support honor on campus.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976 lestes@freelancestar.com 

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