Whitman Students Maintain Family Legacy
Senior Jacob Wright always wanted to come to Whitman College. Not only did his parents, Kevin Wright ’87 and Debra Wright ’89, both graduate from Whitman, they both work here today: Kevin Wright is the custodial supervisor and Debra Wright works in the Business Office.
“I’d say I always wanted to go to Whitman. My parents played it up since I was a little kid,” he said.
But he didn’t just grow up hearing about Whitman. Jacob’s father Kevin Wright married Debra Wright and got a job at Whitman right after he graduated. The two of them were living in the Baker Faculty Center when Jacob was born, and they continued to live there for the first two years of his life.
“Apparently, there’s many, many stories of me in one of those baby carts scooting up and down the hallways,” said Wright.
Wright is one of Whitman’s many legacy students: students with family members who went here as well. Typically, Whitties are drawn to the college because of its small size and personal nature, and it is these same qualities that have inspired some families to join the Whitman community across generations.
Having quite literally grown up at Whitman, enrolling here seemed like the clear choice for Wright. However, the choice is not so obvious for other children of Whitman alumni, like senior Lauren Elgee, who grew up hoping to attend Whitman, but changed her mind during high school.
“I thought I did not want to come here because there are already so many Elgees at Whitman,” she said.
Indeed, there have been many Elgees at Whitman. Both of Lauren’s parents, Steve Elgee ’82 and Sara Elgee ’83, along with two of Lauren’s aunts, one of her uncles and two of her cousins attended Whitman.
While few students have had this many relatives at Whitman, many legacy students have questioned whether or not they want to attend a school with family history. This was certainly a consideration for senior Sophia Titterton, whose mother, Heather (Hallenbeck) Titterton ’86, is an enthusiastic Whitman alumna.
“I’d never thought about applying to it because it was her alma mater,” said Titterton. “I applied to Whitman very last-minute, sort of thinking ‘My mom had a great time here. Why not apply and see how it all works out?’”
This mindset worked out well for Titterton. She didn’t visit Whitman until she was admitted but was excited to enroll, particularly after her mother’s thesis adviser, Peterson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences Keith Farrington, offered to be her pre-major adviser.
Though Elgee had also hesitated about applying to her parents’ alma mater, her visit convinced her to come to Whitman.
“I came back [from Whitman] the happiest of all of my college visits. I decided that not going here because I knew a lot of people who had gone here and enjoyed it was kind of a silly reason,” said Elgee.
For senior Grady Olson, it was his family members’ positive experiences at Whitman that sold him on the school: his father Tim Olson attended Whitman for two years before transferring due to financial reasons. Grady’s sister Liesl Olson ’11 went here as well. Now that he is graduating, Grady Olson looks back fondly on the opportunities he had to visit his sister while she was a student.
“Being able to come here a couple of times and see Whitman on the realm of what Whitman presents and [also] to live in the dorms with her and see what really happens and what it’s really like here—I think that was really beneficial,” said Grady Olson.
When he arrived as a student at Whitman, Grady Olson began working with his sister in the Office of Annual Giving. He also chose to major in geology, much like his sister who studied geology-environmental studies. For Grady Olson, having such close contact with an older sibling definitely helped him transition to college life.
“[Liesl and I] have a really good, close-knit relationship, so I think that just continued here in college,” he said. “We’d hang out a lot. I’d ask favors of her, she’d ask favors of me, and that still continues to this day.”
Senior Paul Cathcart visited Whitman with his parents, Kevin Cathcart ’87 and Lori (Simard) Cathcart ’88, many times while growing up. It was financial aid and personal fit, rather than family history, that convinced him to enroll, but even so, Cathcart’s childhood visits to Whitman were certainly memorable.
“One of my earliest childhood memories was being in a backpack, one of those for children, in the [Tau Kappa Epsilon] house … and I remember very distinctly seeing a mural on the wall there and being really frightened by it,” he said.
That image stuck with Cathcart throughout his childhood, but he didn’t actually know where the memory came from until he enrolled at Whitman and joined TKE like his father once did.
It’s fairly common for Whitman families to truly create a legacy by participating in the same activities. Though both of her parents, Doug Pauly ’81 and Katie (Kavanaugh) Pauly ’83 attended Whitman, junior Skye Pauly’s family history didn’t necessarily influence her choice to enroll here, though it has connected to her choice of activities now that she is on campus. Pauly works with the outdoor program, like her father once did. She also runs cross country with her sister, junior Chelan Pauly.
“It’s really fun to be together [with Chelan] and do some of the same things and do some different things [from our parents],” said Skye Pauly.
Like the Pauly sisters, most legacy students branch out from their parents’ or siblings’ activities at Whitman. For example, although both of Elgee’s parents were involved in Greek life while at Whitman, she chose to remain independent. Titterton, whose mother was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, chose to pledge Delta Gamma instead.
“I sort of joined the [Greek] system because of my mom, but a different group,” said Titterton. “When one of my mom’s really close friends, a sorority sister, found out I’d gone DG she was sort of like, ‘So when are you going to be disowning her?’”
Although she chose a different women’s fraternity, Titterton’s experience with Greek life at her mother’s alma mater allowed them to bond over their common experiences, which culminated when
Heather Titterton visited for her twenty-fifth reunion.
“That was a really funny sort of dual thing to be a part of,” said Sophia Titterton. “My mom was here with all her buddies who she graduated with, while also visiting me at Whitman. I got to meet her friends and seeing them sort of in their element at Whitman, getting to meet some of the DGs she was friends with at Whitman … I’m friends with all the Kappas. My mom will always be like, ‘Sophia, you can’t watch!’ and do the handshake with them.”
The convergence of parents’ and students’ experiences at Whitman has been very positive for many legacy students, who often enjoy some family connections. For example, before she came to Whitman, Pauly had already met Grace Farnsworth Phillips Professor of Geology & Environmental Studies Bob Carson and Associate Dean of Students Clare Carson. When Wright enrolled, he already knew countless staff and faculty members, including Dean of Admission & Financial Aid Tony Cabasco, who graduated with his mother.
Legacy students don’t usually feel restricted by their family history at Whitman. While they sometimes interact with people at Whitman who know their family members, these associations are typically a joy rather than an annoyance.
“Seeing that the friends [my dad] made here even in the two years are still really good friends—he still sees them, he still does stuff with them,” said Olson. “I think that just proves the point that even if you’re here for just a short amount of time, there’s something special about this place and you’ll make lifelong friends, and that’s exactly what I wanted out of college.”