W&L student carrying leadership to Marines
The English and history major will be one of the speakers at today's graduation ceremony.

By Jay Conley

Rob Rain could be a poster child for Marine Corps enlistment.

He's a Texas native with a hint of country twang in his "yes, sir" and an air of confidence that seems apt for leading men and women.

So when you find out that Rain is graduating from college in Lexington today, the first school that comes to mind is Virginia Military Institute.

But Rain went to Washington and Lee University, a school known more for training business leaders than officers in the armed forces.

Rain, 22, was a general of sorts at W&L, playing on the Generals football team for four years, the last as a backup quarterback, and serving his senior year as president of W&L's Executive Committee, a student panel that enforces the school's honor system.

His desire to serve in the Marines was strong enough that he turned down an investment banking job with J.P. Morgan in New York, the kind of opportunity many young graduates yearn for.

Not Rain, a double major in English and history who would rather command a rifle platoon than crunch numbers on Wall Street.

"I think it's a reflection of his confidence," W&L President Ken Ruscio said. "I think he's someone who embraces a challenge."

Rain's motivation for joining the Marines is based on equal parts proving to himself he can hack the Corps and a genuine respect for it. He intends to go into business when his four-year commitment is satisfied.

Rain went through the Marines' grueling 10-week Officer Candidate School last summer with a high school buddy, largely because "we wanted to test ourselves to see if we could do it. I think we started off with 70 guys and ended up with about 40."

He understands when he reports for duty later this summer that the Marines have a reputation for being on the front lines of combat, these days in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I think regardless of what's going on ... I'm confident whatever the Marine Corps' job ends up being, we'll do it well," he said.

Being a Marine or even spending four years at school in Lexington is a big change from where Rain grew up in Highland Park, an affluent community near Dallas.

But W&L apparently has a way of attracting students from Rain's hometown. He's among six students from there graduating at W&L today.

"I kind of wanted to get out of Texas for college," he said. "I looked at Davidson, and a lot of the Ivy Leagues. Of the ones I visited, Washington and Lee was my favorite."

Much of it has to do with W&L professors, who Rain says are very accessible.

"They've put a lot into their interactions with students, trying really to get to know us on a personal level," he said. "I've been out to dinner with all sorts of faculty members. I've been to their houses."

W&L's honor system also has impressed on Rain the type of moral values he wants to carry with him into the world.

"I didn't realize how unique it was until recently," he said of the student-run system in which students police themselves and have the power to expel another student for cheating or violating other rules of conduct. "I went to a pretty big public high school in Texas. And I was used to seeing cheating and that kind of thing, and I've never seen it here."

Ruscio said Rain's leadership with the honor system has been impressive.

"He has tremendous leadership potential, solid character, one of those individuals that's mature beyond his years," Ruscio said.

Rain and Ruscio will give speeches during today's commencement on the school's front lawn near Lee Chapel. Both will talk about honor and leadership, about ethics and self-sacrifice, the characteristics that make a good Marine and business leader.