That Girl: Alyssa Wallace
September 22, 2009
__Without her faint but detectable New England accent, Alyssa Wallace’s Boston, Mass. roots would barely be recognizable, considering her quirky soft spots for country music, rodeos and cowboy boots. This uprooted northerner studies government and history at the College and serves as the senior class president and president of Phi Sigma Pi, as well as in various posts in a number of student organizations. This busy bee takes a stand on human rights, enlightens me on South African culture and tells me what “sassy and fantastic” political figure she idolizes.__
*If you had to describe your experience at the College in a word, what would it be?*
I think I would go with “diverse,” but not in the traditional sense as much. All of my friends from home have very different college experiences. I think a lot of them go to schools where they are sort of the stereotypical student for that school. In spite of what people will say terminology-wise, there really is no typical William and Mary student. There are so many different kinds of people here, and really the only unifying factor I find among all the students here is that they are intelligent and passionate. That, to me, is so powerful, and I think it has an effect on every one of our daily lives. I think my friends from home that go to different schools don’t have quite as powerful an experience as I’ve been having.
*You are studying history and focusing on African studies. How did your interest in Africa come about?*
I kind of accidentally stumbled upon it. I got here and really wanted to study American government and American history, and then my freshman year I took History of Modern South Africa and it absolutely changed my life. The professor is amazing: I’ve had him four times since, been his research assistant, and he’s my advisor for everything. I just completely fell in love with the subject matter and became really passionate about African history and African studies in general, so I also ended up studying abroad two summers ago in South Africa on the College’s first-ever service study abroad.
*Does your interest in Africa play into what you want to do in the future?*
I want to go into human rights law, and I think my interest in Africa is what really drove me to want to be a human rights lawyer. I just think that people tend to think of most human rights violations as things of the past, and they’re not — there are plenty still going on. Most of my study has been on South Africa, so that’s my best point of reference, but I really want to expand that in life. In the case of South Africa, everybody assumes, “Apartheid happened, but now it’s over and things are great,” but that’s not the case. There’s still tons of racial inequality and disparity that’s not going to be made up for anytime soon, and there’s still plenty of violence and racial violence and resource-competition violence and things like that, and tons of xenophobia in Africa.
*What aspect of African culture are you most interested in?*
I’m more interested in the history than the culture, but I’m actually doing an independent study on the music of the anti-apartheid movement, and it’s really cool and a lot of fun. What I’m trying to look at is the extent to which history shaped the music, but also to what extent the music shaped the history, because in the South African — and I think a lot of African — cultures music is such a big cultural component of life, and I think how that shapes what goes on in a society is really interesting.
*What’s an embarrassing experience you’ve had at the College?*
I’ve fallen down just about every set of stairs on this campus. I’m kind of famous for it everywhere.
*If you could go back and visit an era, which one would you choose?*
I would definitely go back to the 1960s: I would really want to be there for especially 1963 and 1968, just because I find both of those years so noteworthy in general and I think it was kind of the last time in history that people our age as a generation together cared about a cause and cared about something. I just think it’s absolutely inspiring looking back at what people our age were doing at that time — granted I’m sure they were doing all kinds of illegal things as well, but at the same time they cared, they protested, they spoke up, they didn’t take “no” for an answer. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?*
I’ve always and still want to be a Supreme Court justice when I grow up. That’s my pipe dream goal for sure, but I also really wanted to be a writer, too.
*Who is your favorite public figure?*
Sandra Day O’Connor, actually. She’s my idol because she was the woman who opened the door for women being on the Supreme Court. She was the first one, and that is a very powerful precedent. If you’ve seen her come speak here, she is old and sassy and fantastic. She also, of course, has had some really powerful decisions on the court and opinions. She was supposed to be a conservative, but she surprised some people by doing things that agree with my liberal values.
*What music do you listen to?*
I have really diverse taste in music. Billy Joel is one of my all-time favorite human beings. I just think he is one of the best songwriters of all time. I mean, you can’t take that away from [Bob] Dylan and so forth, but I also love Jason Mraz, and I’ve been a Matchbox Twenty fan even during the years when it wasn’t acceptable anymore, I absolutely adore Rob Thomas, I think he’s a fantastic musician. That’s the thing, I really like people who I think can be classified as good musicians — people who play and sing and write. And also, my guilty pleasure — which plenty of people know so I have no shame in admitting it — is that I love country music in spite of being from the north.
*Any other southern obsessions?*
I’ve been a cowgirl for Halloween like a thousand times when I was younger, and I was a cowgirl last Halloween, too. Any excuse to wear cowboy boots is great; I mean I wear them all the time anyway. I also actually went to a rodeo for spring break last year. It was the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in Texas and it was incredible. I am allergic to horses, that wasn’t awesome, but it was totally worth it. The whole cowgirl thing and being allergic to horses doesn’t add up, but it was still amazing and such a bizarre experience and so foreign to my personal culture and where I come from.
*What’s something you spend too much time doing?*
Working for things and not for my classes. Working on Senior Class Gift, working on student government, working on Phi Sigma Pi, working on anything I can. I definitely spend way too much time bonding with my e-mail account and sending e-mails for things, and I don’t spend nearly enough time relaxing — I don’t know what the word “relax” means.
*What’s something you wish you did more of?*
See, I don’t even wish I relaxed. People always tell me that — my family always tells me that — but I don’t really know what that means and really, I’m not content being stationary. I much prefer being around, doing things, being up, being with people. I’m almost never by myself, and I love that.
*What’s your most frequent late-night Wawa purchase?*
Well, probably string cheese. Always, actually. I started a trend last year among my friends because I bought a string cheese every time I went there, and then one of us would be going to Wawa and have to come back with like six of them because we were all studying together and stuff. I’m also a caffeine addict, but only tea, the ginger peach kind. I really like flavored black teas, but I also love chai — I’m an absolute chai addict.
*What’s something you spend too much money on?*
Caffeine. I absolutely spend way too much money on tea and chai and things that I can make myself at home.
__At the end of the interview Alyssa picks up the phone that’s been beeping periodically throughout the interview and proceeds to shoot several texts at lightning speed. She tells me that she gets made fun of for being a mad texter and explains that she texts with “abnormal fingers,” or a thumb and an index instead of both thumbs. Just watch out for her on stairs around campus, and look her direction if the cheese stick box at Wawa is empty.__