H. Van Smith

Class of 2003

Owner: Smith Strong, PLC
Major: Government
Minor: History
Other Degrees: JD, W&M Law School
Current Location: Richmond, VA

My William & Mary education, as an undergraduate and in law school, gave me a set of tools. And what is wonderful about a liberal arts education is that these tools can adapt to change—and change is constant.

Throughout my career, I've helped rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq, served on projects for national universities, worked for the third largest law firm in Virginia and ultimately created my own law firm. Each of these moments brought tests and challenges that required a very adaptable, flexible set of skills that came from a balanced education.

I believe anyone without a liberal arts education is at a distinct disadvantage. We need the hard sciences, no doubt about it, but liberal arts folks can be dropped into a variety of situations and lead. For me, it’s been war, university administrations and law firms.

During the terrible recession in 2008, I was laid off from a very large law firm. Licking my wounds, I continued to read, plan, think and envision the future. I designed, created, hired, implemented and sustained—in my head—my next chapter, starting my own law firm. And then I had to actually do it. While it grew I had to stay true to that vision and plan. That versatility is liberal arts, practically applied, through creative effort.

By attending William & Mary I received the best education in America. When I was laid off I had no safety net. It was just me, the relationships I had developed and the tools from my education that paved the way to a better chapter.

William & Mary gave me confidence that pushed me to trust my instincts, have the guts to start my own venture, be an entrepreneur and make a real difference.