President's Blog

Archive for June 2011

Celebrating Shirley Reid

If you attended or worked at Sweet Briar anytime since 1954, odds are you know this lady.

Yesterday the College celebrated the retirement of Shirley Reid from the library staff after 57 years of service. The kind of loyalty and dedicated service “Ms Reid” has shown to the College is rare and precious.

As is her sense of humor. I am not publishing here one photo from yesterday, in which Ms. Reid was making rabbit ears behind the head of an unsuspecting colleague. On more than one occasion, I talked with Ms. Reid about College matters; she would not hesitate to remind me — with a bit of a twinkle — that she had come to the College in the year I was born and knew a thing or two that I might learn. I have learned to listen attentively, even at her farewell party.

She will be much, much missed, although I am sure we will enjoy her company often, as she promises to visit us whenever she can take a break from the many activities she has planned for her retirement.

Holla holla Shirley Reid!

Dynamic Summer of Arts on Campus

BLUR drawing class

While I was away, our new summer program for young artists got off to a great start, and it’s attracting a lot of attention.

Here‘s a story from the News and Advance, and here‘s some coverage from the local television station. (Click on the video box in the upper right to see the piece as it aired.) This might be my favorite quote from the article in the News and Advance:

“The BLUR kids have bonded quickly, as they share rooms, meals and their love of art with each other.

“Some of us haven’t been in an environment where the people are like us,” says Hannah Rae Bracey, a 16-year-old aspiring writer from Chesterfield. “We’re at home, writing, acting and creating art, while other people are sitting in a corner going, ‘Why are you doing that?’”

At BLUR, “we all fit together,” she says. “It’s phenomenal what everyone can do.””

Seeing these talented high school students discover, on our campus, the power of a community united by creativity and intellectual engagement is enormously exciting. It’s the interactions with faculty and each other as fellow artists and fellow learners that generate so much energy. And after all, this is what Sweet Briar does best — bring together faculty and students in a community of engagement, support, and collaboration.

And that’s not all that’s going on. The endstation theater company is in the middle of its summer residency on campus for the Blue Ridge Summer Theater Festival. Their production of Assassins is still running, and I encourage any readers in the area to catch it while they can!

Between these two programs, the campus is full of people writing, drawing, photographing, dancing, acting, singing, critiquing, revising, creating, and performing. What a lively and joyful way for Sweet Briar to nourish the arts and contribute to the community. . . and what fun it makes being on campus this summer!

A remarkable trip!

I’m back on campus after a remarkable trip through Eastern Europe with a wonderful group of Sweet Briar alumnae and their friends and family. This was my first trip with a Sweet Briar group, and while I can’t say I was surprised to find that our alumnae are marvelously cheerful, bright, and energetic travel companions, it was a delight to have my expectations in that regard confirmed!

(Speaking of family,  Rick and my cousin’s daughter Amy accompanied me on this adventure; here are a couple of pictures taken along the way.)

Rick in Slovakia

I could go on for hours about the wonderful things we saw and did on this trip. Again and again, whatever we were doing, I found myself thinking about the kind of learning that travel makes possible and the learning that I was personally experiencing.

Amy making strudel in Austria

The places we visited have deep and long histories. Our tours, readings, and activities offered perspective on a thousand years of culture in what are now Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and the Czech Republic. But naturally enough, the events of the 20th century were a topic of special interest, as we could see in a very immediate way the impact of both the Second World War and the Cold War in the region.

While I learned several specific pieces of new information, the general outlines of that recent history were pretty well known to me from coursework, my own reading, documentaries, and the personal accounts of older relatives and friends. For the most part, what I was learning on this trip was not information to be absorbed cognitively; it was perspective to be absorbed imaginatively and emotionally. Standing in Bratislava, looking down on a road which within our guide’s lifetime had contained the wire fencing and guard towers of the Iron Curtain; standing in a former guard tower at Birkenau looking across the fields of barracks where camp inmates were imprisoned and at the railroad siding at which they arrived; standing in a synagogue museum in Prague surrounded by the names of the city’s lost Jewish families — these moments made information searingly real to me and gave knowledge an emotional profundity that it could never otherwise have had. This is what “experiential learning” means. . .

The trip was unforgettable, as were the alumnae and friends who shared it. I’m grateful to have been able to be part of it!


Tomorrow Rick and I leave for a wonderful alumnae trip to Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Vienna, Budapest, Prague — and in the company of Sweet Briar women and their friends and relations! Can’t wait.

Alas, however, I don’t imagine I’ll be able to keep up with blogging during the trip. So, please excuse me for taking a break from posting until later this month. I’ll be glad to share the adventure when I get back — and if you’re my Facebook friend, check your news feed for occasional updates.

Summer Book Club

I hope readers of this blog are aware of Banister Writer-in-Residence Carrie Brown‘s virtual summer book club! If not, you can find it here.

June’s book is Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, and I’ll confess to not having finished it yet. But I’m well into it and I’m utterly enthralled. Within pages I realized I had fully suspended all disbelief: rarely have I read a fiction that so felt like a description of a historical event, that felt so fully real. Naturally, I have no idea what’s around the corner and what I’ll be thinking when I’ve experienced the whole narrative. But I’m certainly looking forward to finding out. . .and I’ll be posting on the book club blog once I do.

Why not check out the book club and join in? Read along with us this summer and share your comments and reflections.