Craig Gilchrist and his wife Laura Castro-Gilchrist of Spotsylvania County are the parents of Laura ’17 and Michael ’20. They are members of the University’s Parent Leadership Circle, and Craig serves on the UMW Philharmonic Board of Directors.
The younger Laura ’17 has a Bachelor’s degree from UMW in Historic Preservation with a minor in Museum Studies and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in museum studies at the University of Leicester in Leicester, England.
Michael ’20 is a Communication and Digital Studies major with minors in Cybersecurity and Marketing. Like his sister, Michael lives at home with his parents while attending Mary Washington full-time.
UMW Parent and Family eNews recently sat down with Craig and Laura to get their perspective on their children’s experiences at UMW and their role as parents.
Q: Tell us about Michael’s and Laura’s involvement in the UMW community outside of the classroom.
A: Michael is a Student Alumni Ambassador and has been elected the organization’s vice president for the upcoming school year. He is a Washington Guide and will serve as an Orientation Leader this summer. He plays second violin in the UMW Philharmonic Orchestra and works in the University Center.
During her four years at UMW, Laura was Orientation Coordinator, Orientation Leader, vice president of her class, president of the Commuter Student Association, a Reunion Weekend volunteer, and a Washington Guide. She played flute in the UMW Philharmonic Orchestra and worked in the Historic Preservation department. After graduation, she worked as an Area Coordinator for UMW Residence Life before moving to England to start her Master’s program.
Q: How did your children choose Mary Washington as their collegiate home?
A: Laura visited the campus on a tour with the AVID program when she was a sixth-grader at Dahlgren School. She came home and said, “That’s where I’m going to college.”
We moved several times after that for Craig’s career in the Navy, and we ultimately decided to move back to Fredericksburg. When she was in high school in Spotsylvania County, Laura completed volunteer work for National Honor Society at the Mary Washington House and Kenmore and became interested in historic preservation. She considered going to William and Mary to pursue a pre-law track, but Mary Washington’s preservation program won out.
For Michael, he wasn’t initially sure—he wanted to be Michael and not be in his sister’s shadow. He considered George Mason, but we convinced him that attending Mary Washington and living at home was the best choice from a value standpoint. It helped that the school is excellent. His first year, he had his sister on campus as a senior, but he has been able to make his own way and make his own mark on campus.
Q: Both of your children clearly have a commitment to contribute to the UMW community. How did you encourage them to serve and lead?
A: Michael was an Eagle Scout, and we instilled in him that when you start something, you need to finish it. We also taught our children that you have to give to the community, and the community will give back to you. You cannot expect to receive without giving anything. Through giving your time, you meet people and you make connections.
Our children also learned these lessons through our family’s involvement in the Rappahannock Colonial Heritage Society. They both danced with the society and participated in reenactments, and they got to interact with people they wouldn’t have otherwise met and go places they wouldn’t have gone.
Q: Tell me about Craig’s military service and how it helped to prepare Laura and Michael for college.
A (Craig): I was in the Navy for 23 years. In 1993 I was stationed in Panama, and I was lucky enough to meet and marry my wife. Both of our kids were born in Panama. From there we moved to Dahlgren, and that’s when we started getting to know this area. Then we spent three years in the Azores, Portugal, then moved to California, and I was deployed to Iraq. After my retirement from the Navy, we moved back to Fredericksburg, and both kids graduated from Massaponax High School in Spotsylvania County.
Laura and Michael had to learn early how to adjust to different environments. I would always tell them how lucky they were to be able to see so many different places in the world. It broadened their horizons and helped them see things more globally. They learned how to deal with different people because they were moving every two to three years.
Q: What advice would you offer for parents of college students?
A: They think they know everything, but you still need to be there. They need your advice. Let them know you are there for them and are willing to help them — not to do it for them, but to offer guidance and support. They are technically adults, but they do need their parents to help them make that transition from high school to college. You also have to know your children and their differences; sometimes, one has it all figured out and another might need more support.
Our job is to love them and provide a degree of parental oversight but not protect them to the point that they do not take responsibility. They need to be allowed to make their decisions, and parent’s job is to reinforce that they will have to live with the consequences of those decisions.
Q: What is your advice for parents of recent college graduates?
A: The role of the parent, again, is to be a source of support. Laura, for instance, had a contracting job lined up with the U.S. Marshals Service after graduation in 2017. But when she was accepted to the University of Leicester, she took out the loans to make it happen, and we supported her in making the leap. She had this really exciting opportunity, and we gave her our blessing to pursue it instead of taking the job. At the same time, we made sure she understood that it was her responsibility to finance it.
Q: What would you say to someone who argues that a student can’t have the full college experience without living on campus?
A: I don’t know of anything that they wanted to do at UMW that they haven’t been able to because they didn’t live on campus. Like Laura, Michael takes 18 credits each semester; he leaves in the morning and we don’t see him until the late evening. He’s involved in everything, and Laura was the same way.
We didn’t want our kids to have loans, and we agreed to pay for their undergraduate education. At first, Laura wanted to live on campus, but we told her she would have to pay for room and board herself. Now she says she is glad that she didn’t go that route because she graduated debt-free.
Q: What are the most important things Laura and Michael have gained from their Mary Washington experience?
A: UMW has given them a strong foundation for the rest of their lives. There are so many people on campus who have supported Laura and Michael so tremendously. Long after graduation, that foundation will support them, and they will rely on the experience they had and the connections they made. UMW is giving them everything they need to create a strong future—the academics, the facilities, the people. And we’ve always emphasized that it’s a two-way street—the college gives you everything they can, and you have to take advantage of it and give back.
To learn more about the Parent Leadership Circle and opportunities to get involved, please contact Beth Hunsinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-654-2068.