President's Blog

Archive for May 2011

Commencement Address on CSPAN

Sweet Briar’s 2011 Commencement address, by entrepreneur Lara Merriken, was aired by CSPAN and is available in their video archive.

Ms. Merriken was selected to give the Commencement address for several reasons. She’s an advocate for health, nutrition, and wellness; she’s a woman who built a successful company in a highly competitive industry; she’s a citizen who emphasizes service as an essential  aspect of a healthy life. No wonder CSPAN wanted to film her.

From the comments I heard at Commencement and the Facebook posts I saw, students and their families appreciated her remarks. I think you will too!

Engineering in Global Perspective

Check out Hank Yochum’s blog — he’s Director of our engineering program. His most recent post is about the program’s upcoming trip to Brazil. To quote from his opening sentences:

“As part of our spring 2011 engineering course. . . Technology and Society: A Global Perspective, Sweet Briar engineering majors and non-engineering majors have been designing devices for an occupational therapy clinic in Brazil.  Students and faculty are extremely excited to be traveling to Brazil to meet and interact with our clients and to experience Brazilian culture!”

Among the projects they’re working on are an eye-blink communications device, a prosthetic hand, and a proprioceptive device. And as they’re studying engineering, they’re also studying Brazilian culture — because the know that their projects need to work culturally as well as they do technically in order to be successful.

This is the kind of experience that Sweet Briar is proud of providing. It’s a rare combination of hands-on learning with travel and intercultural awareness, all based in a strong liberal arts education. I suspect that the students who take advantage of this opportunity will never forget this summer and will never see the world in quite the same way again. I for one look forward to following their adventures through Professor Yochum’s blog.

Reunion 2011!

What a joy Reunion is!

This year the weather was perfection, up until the very last hour when the closing picnic became slightly dampish. But only the weather was damp — spirits remained sunny.

Some members of the Class of ’56 gathered in the Boxwood Alumnae House, remembering the days when it was a residence hall and they lived there (and when the smell of baking cookies from the kitchen would permeate the living room.)

As I moved through the weekend’s events, I found myself asking: what, exactly, is being reunited with what at a college reunion? Clearly, classes are being reunited, as the members find themselves together again in the place where they first discovered one another. Just as clearly, friends are being reunited with friends and alumnae are being reunited with a place and a community that shaped their lives.

It also occurred to me that at Reunion women are being reunited with the students they themselves used to be. Being on campus among friends and classmates brings back powerful memories of youthful aspirations and of what life was like before we knew many of the things we know now.

For members of recent classes, the Sweet Briar they visit at Reunion is very much like the one they attended.  Alumnae who are returning for their 25th or 50th Reunions, however, have seen so many changes: former residence halls that are now Alumnae offices, just to mention one example~!

Reunions are wonderful emblems of the relationship of continuity and change. Women whose experiences span more than half a century of Sweet Briar history have had, in one sense, very different experiences from one another — and, on the other hand, they have enjoyed very much the same transformative education, based in Sweet Briar’s enduring commitment to the liberal arts, faculty mentoring, and hands-on learning for women. Watching them share that experience across the generations is perhaps my favorite part of Reunion.

Sally Old Kitchin, 2011 Outstanding Alumna

By the authority vested in me. . .

Commencement 2011 was beautiful!

Vice President Scott Shank and I made a rather bold weather call (if I do say so myself) and the ceremony took place outside. The weather cooperated and although the day was misty and damp, there was no actual rain.

If you’re interested in some of the details — our wonderful speaker Lara Merriken or the awards given to faculty, staff, and students, for example — you can find press coverage here and several good pieces on our web site. At least a few readers of this blog have told me they took advantage of our live-streaming pilot, which appears to have gone very well.

As I reflected on the day, however, I returned again and again to the thought that wonderful as all that is — the misty morning on the upper Quad, the bagpipers, the inspiring speaker, the cheers and tears — it is important only because of what it represents. The pride and pleasure of accomplishment, the celebration of relationship, and the acknowledgement of growth are the vital heart of any Commencement. And so when I remember this wonderful day, I will recall the faces of graduates, parents, faculty, and friends, and the bittersweet combination of celebration and farewell we shared.

We know that we will never have these students back. They will visit us as alumnae, remain our friends, and become our supporters and representatives, but these precious four years have run their course for the class of 2011. I know I speak for all of us on campus when I say how grateful and proud we are that these young women chose to share their undergraduate years with us.

2010-11 Voice Editor Morgan Harman and me

Join Us For Commencement!

Wherever you are in the world, this year you can participate in Sweet Briar’s Commencement!

At 10 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday, we will for the first time be webcasting the ceremony. Click on this link to get to the site, where you will also be able to see slide shows, videos, and other media presentations.

Our hope is that relatives and friends of the graduates who can’t make it to campus for Commencement will find that this is the next best things to being there. And perhaps some alumnae will enjoy taking a look as well.

If you do join us on line, please take a second afterward to let us know how the experience works for you. This is a pilot project, and feedback is essential to helping us improve it. Comments can be sent to me by clicking here.

Celebrating Athletics

This weekend we held the Athletic Recognition banquet, one of the many wonderful events marking the end of the academic year. The special joy of this event is in celebrating the tremendous energy and growth that we see in our Vixens on the courts and fields and in the pool.

Deans Green and Steele, Indy, and me

Lots of individual awards and honors were presented at the banquet, but again and again the point was made that every young woman who puts on a uniform and takes her place on a team deserves to be honored.

Sweet Briar athletes are learning lessons they will never forget — in their sports as well as in their majors. If they have learned to compete wholeheartedly and entirely without rancor, to hold up their heads after an honorable defeat, to move intentionally through space and time with discipline, strength, and grace, to find freedom and success within boundaries and rules, and to recognize the relationship between individual success and interdependence, they will have learned the most important things athletics has to teach.

One of the distinctive virtues of the American tradition of liberal arts colleges is its dedication to the education of  whole persons — mind, body, and spirit. At Sweet Briar, our coaches make sure that we are fulfilling this vital part of our mission, and the banquet is a celebration of them as well.

So, Holla Holla coaches and GO SWEET athletes!

Latest, and maybe greatest, video

Here’s the latest video. You really want to watch this one: it brings to life the magic that happens between faculty members and students.