Carrying on a legendary legacy
The flags at Brookings Hall one year ago today were lowered to fly at half-mast in honor of the late James McLeod. McLeod, one of Washington University’s most beloved and celebrated individuals, died following a two-year battle with lung cancer. In the coming weeks, the University will honor him with events and the dedication of a memorial in his name.
Over his 37-year career, the University transformed from a regional school to an internationally renowned institution, and McLeod was a constant source of spirit. Students described him as the soul of the University, committed to caring for the lives of all his colleagues and pupils. McLeod’s mantra was to know every student by name and by story. His enthusiasm for this school motivated an unbelievable work ethic and produced prolific results—so much, in fact, that two administrators were promoted to succeed his one post.
To many students, he was an integral part of the undergraduate experience. Tuesday night, Chancellor Mark Wrighton sought to reinforce his commitment to fostering that experience with a “State of the University” address.
In his speech, the chancellor named four pillars that support the University: preparing society’s next generation of leaders, continuing to advance human health, spurring innovation and entrepreneurship and building the University as an institution and community.
As an institution, Wash. U. is constantly competing—for the most esteemed faculty, the brightest students and wider recognition. In his speech, Chancellor Wrighton noted how incredibly important financial resources are for the University to remain competitive, but it’s important to realize just how much we can do with the resources that we currently have.
Many of the names we remember in relation to the University are famous as benefactors of the school. It’s a fairly straightforward formula: If you donate several million, then you can have a building named after you; if you donate a bit less, you may get a classroom or bench on Mudd Field.
McLeod Way, the path from the South 40 to the Underpass to be dedicated in honor of Jim McLeod next week, is an exception to that paradigm. Jim McLeod benefited the University not in cash but in time and commitment.
Most students will only be able to call Wash. U. their home for four years. Tuesday night, Speaker of Student Union Senate and senior Neel Desai introduced the chancellor’s speech by pointing out how many students spend those years focused on their studies and apathetic to the broader University community. Jim McLeod spent 37 years getting to know his colleagues and students by name and story. But adopting his goals and his mantra doesn’t mean becoming a tenured student or giving up on personal goals. Sharing and continuing to make stories doesn’t require dedicating your life to making the University a better place. But just planning to get your degree and leave would tarnish the memory of one Wash. U.’s most inspiring figures.