Rob Tisdale is the epitome of grace and humility. Open, honest and comfortable in his own skin, he candidly shares personal experiences with me about his family, growing up, coming out of the closet and his time at the College. The depth of his conversation and feelings showcase this warmth and compassion. Rob has reaped the full benefit of his time at the College; using his four years to truly learn, develop and grow as an individual.
p. **Where are you from?**
p. I am from Midlothian, Virginia, just south of Richmond. I usually tell people I’m from Richmond just because no one has ever really heard of Midlothian. We didn’t have big gates or anything, but I did live in one of those planned communities. There were two pools, three thousand houses and tons of people. I think half of my high school lived in the same community as me. It was how I met a lot of my friends. Hanging out with them was incredibly easy because of how close we all lived to one another.
p. I didn’t know the Richmond area that well when I was growing up because I didn’t venture much outside of the community. In fact, I didn’t even visit William and Mary before applying. Since coming to the College, though, and meeting people from the area, I’ve gotten to explore and experience a lot more in the city.
p. **You applied to the College without ever visiting?**
p. [laughs] I really wanted to stay in Virginia because they have good in-state schools for my major [government], so I didn’t see the point of going out of state. My parents fully endorsed the decision as well. I did not know a lot about William and Mary, but my grandfather was a ’50 alumni, and he really encouraged me to look at the school. I read up about it and looked at their website, saw they had a government major program, and decided to apply. I came on Admitted Students Day, and that was the first time I had ever set foot on the campus. During our lunch break, I approached my mom and said “we need to pay the deposit now.” I loved the beautiful campus, the small size and the nice people. I loved the history behind everything and was sold when I heard [former President] Timmy Sullivan speak on our tour. I owe thanks to my grandfather for encouraging me to learn and apply to this place.
p. **After four years, do you still view the campus in that manner?**
p. Definitely. Everyone on this campus is so kind. My friends here treat me incredibly well. Last spring, two years ago, my grandfather passed away. It was in April, and I was with four other people in the UC planning skit stuff for orientation. We were starting a dress rehearsal of the skit when my parents called. I asked if I could call back, and my dad said that I couldn’t and that he was at my dorm room and needed to talk. That’s when I knew something was wrong. He told me about my grandfather’s passing and that we were going to cremate him and scatter the ashes along the Appalachian Trail, which is what he always wanted. I was really depressed and didn’t want to talk or see anyone. One of my friends read my away message and came over. At that point, I was in my room listening to Narissa Blonde, a small-time guitarist and singer who produces very mellow and calming music that I like.
p. My friend came over and just sat with me for an hour or two listening to her music. He knew something was wrong but never asked what it was. He didn’t have to. It is the small, yet special things like that that confirm my love for the individuals on this campus and my decision to come.
p. **What else do you think you are going to miss about the College?**
p. The Daily Grind. It’s my favorite place on campus because it is just so nice and outdoorsy. I spend a lot of my time there; I will have worked there for two years this February. I never even drank coffee before I came here because I thought it was pretty nasty. I used to sit inside with two of my friends freshman year at those round tables until closing time. We would come for 12 to 13 hour days on Sunday, and we really learned to call that place our home. Eventually, I got a job inside which made sense given the large amount of time I was already spending there.
p. I usually grab breakfast from the University Center and will hang out with Scott [the owner] and his kids while I do work and study for the LSATs. I don’t come as much at night because it gets really social, and I just can’t work then. It’s nice to walk in and see familiar faces because of how popular it is. I love that place, and it is one of the reasons I’m so upset to leave in May. You don’t find many places like the Grind … a small, individual coffee shop that retains its character. Everyone who works there or comes often knows each other so well. I am friends with Scott and his entire family. There is a sticker on the fridge that says “Daily Grind: for students, by students,” and that saying couldn’t be more true. You identify with the people that come to work, relax or work there. We’re all just one big family.
p. **You’re taking the LSATs? Do we have a future lawyer on our hands?**
p. I already have a set of jobs I plan on having. It’s a funny story actually … I am going to be president in the year 2036 or 2040. I picked 2036 for a while, and this past weekend I was at my grandmother’s surprise party. I was talking to her friend and told her that was what I wanted to do, and she said that she “liked my optimism.” I couldn’t help but think “why not?” You should set your goals as high as you want, and even if you don’t achieve it, you’ll still get something out of it.
p I didn’t always want to be president though. When I was younger, I wanted to be the person at the cash register because I assumed that they got to take home all the money with them at the end of the night. I soon learned that this is not the case and moved on to other career aspirations. After college, I am planning on attending law school and then opening up my own private practice. I would like to work in some type of government law making position and could see myself serving as a judge or getting involved in politics at the state or federal level. I know it sounds ridiculous that I have all of this lined up but I’ve always loved law and politics.
p **How did you come out? What were some of the responses?**
p. Freshman year, one of my best friends was a girl who lived right above me in Spotswood. My room was situated right next to the fire escape, and she would come down all the time to smoke out there, and I would sometimes keep her company. During one of our times sitting in the outdoor stairwell, I told her I was gay. She started laughing and would not stop. She didn’t believe me for some reason and told me it was the best joke she had ever heard. I told her again the next day, and the next day, until finally she realized I wasn’t kidding.
p. After her, I would just tell one person at a time, building courage along the way. I started going room by room telling my hallmates, and then venturing off into the neighboring hall. I would walk into the room and somehow drop into the conversation, “By the way, I’m gay.” They always responded in a very nonchalant “oh ok, cool” manner. In the beginning, it was really tough. Since then, it has gotten much easier.