Class of 2015: History major and cadet Liam McGurn ‘well prepared to handle the unexpected’
BLACKSBURG — When Liam McGurn walks across the stage at Virginia Tech’s commencement on Friday, he may not know exactly where his next step is professionally, but he’s not worried.
“Even though I don’t have something immediately set-up right now, I have a plan for after graduation. It doesn’t really worry me. I know I'm well prepared to handle the unexpected,” the senior history major from Warren, New Jersey, said. McGurn is applying for graduate schools and will find out in the spring if accepted.
That attitude likely comes from the variety of academic and co-curricular activities he’s taken advantage of at Virginia Tech, all while finishing his degree requirements a semester early.
One major influencer for McGurn is the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. “Even though in the beginning it wasn’t fun, it got better after a couple of weeks and I really enjoyed it,” McGurn said. “Through the Corps, I try to do the best possible action all of the time and present myself in the best possible way. Also, I like the discipline that it gave me. I was a slacker in high school. I was always smart but didn’t do as much work. It’s made me focus on my studies and opened up doors through good grades and being committed to my major.”
Beyond that, it’s made him see he’s capable of achieving more than the limits he previously placed on himself. “Freshman year, there’s a point where they take you to the obstacle course over by the cage. The final one is the rope that you climb up and touch the top. I remember looking at it and I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. And sure enough, I went up. It sounds simple but it’s a ‘wow’ moment,” McGurn said.
McGurn also stretched his limits with two trips abroad. The first trip was with the Presidential Global Scholars program through University Honors. He spent his spring semester sophomore year based in Switzerland, with trips throughout Europe. “The best part of the program was meeting some interesting people over there. One of my friends from New Jersey flew over and we spent a couple of weeks in Italy together. We were on the Almalfi coast in a hostel. We bought a bunch of pizza and beer for everyone. I had a beer with a guy who was in the Australian Special Forces. He told me about his time in Afghanistan. He had to blow up forts that were built by Alexander the Great because they were being used as Taliban weapons caches. Stories like that make the trip amazing.”
Though he enjoyed his time in Europe, McGurn recently developed an interest in Chinese affairs, fostered by a Mandarin immersion trip to the country for a month last summer. “It was nice to be on my feet and be somewhere that was so totally, culturally, different.”
McGurn took that interest in China to spearhead his Honors thesis as well as his history major’s required topics course. He worked with Helen Schneider, associate professor of history, on both projects this year.
McGurn hopes to continue his study into China in an international relations graduate program. “With the Iraq War and War on Terror, there’s been a boost in experts in Arab and Middle Eastern affairs, but not as much in Chinese affairs. Interest in the country, however, is growing because of the economy and South China Sea dispute.”
As McGurn looks to his next steps, he’s thankful for his experiences here that have prepared him to excel in the future. “You realize you can tackle stuff you didn’t think you could tackle before. That’s definitely been a theme for how my college experience has gone. I did a lot of stuff I didn’t think I’d be capable of doing as a student here. I met a lot of people I didn’t think I’d be friends with here.”